By Allen Turner
Work has resumed and is expected to be completed Monday on a project to replace the roof of the old Columbus County Courthouse, but there are still no plans in place for complete renovation of the historic structure, which has been unused since 2015.
County commissioners authorized $62,800 in May to replace the roof and work began on June 18 but on June 30, the contractor, E.L. Hawks Roofing and Sheet Metal Works, had to temporarily suspend the work while awaiting the arrival of needed construction materials. That material has arrived and work on the roof is expected to be finished Monday.
Although the roof has been repaired, Chairman Amon McKenzie of the county commissioners confirmed Wednesday that no plans have been finalized for renovating the facility.
Renovation of the building is something with which commissioners have struggled since October 2015, when the low bid for projected renovations came in at $6.083 million, substantially higher than the $5.119 million commissioners had budgeted. Renovations essentially have been on hold since then because of upcoming school construction needs and lack of consensus over to what use the old courthouse should be put.
The 2015 bids were for a renovation project that would have retained the building as a judicial facility, but whether the old courthouse will be devoted to court functions or used for other purposes after renovation has been debated the last few years without a final decision.
Lots of ideas have been bandied about, including restoring the historic courthouse to its original configuration of a single large courtroom on the second floor of the building. For the last several decades before most court functions were moved to the new courthouse, the historic courthouse contained two courtrooms on the second floor for Superior and District Court use.
Columbus County Clerk of Court Jess Hill has consistently said he hopes to see the old courthouse preserved for court use and that he needs two courtrooms in a renovated facility. Other suggestions for eventual use for the building in late 2015 and early 2016 included moving offices for the District Attorney, now operating in the former tax office on Courthouse Square, into the old building, or moving county administrative offices from their current location on Washington Street to the old courthouse and moving Probation and Parole offices from rented space into what is now the county administrative building. However, commissioners last year ruled out moving county administrative offices to the old courthouse.
Although commissioners had earmarked $5 million for historic courthouse renovation, they decided in November of last year to instead give the $5 million to the county and city school systems for construction projects.
Subsequently, in March of this year they decided to set aside for historic courthouse renovation purposes $2,133,320 the county received from selling the former Georgia Pacific industrial site to the R.J. Corman Railroad of the former Georgia Pacific industrial site for renovations. However, there has been no discussion and no decision since then about to what purpose the old building will be devoted or about developing new renovation plans that would be within the county’s financial means.