'Kind of daunting'
The Woodstock City Council and its Historic Preservation Commission met for two hours last week to discuss a plan for the Old Courthouse Building project.
At the end of 2011, the city took ownership of the building. While the city accepted ownership, officials have maintained that it is their intention to eventually transfer the property to private ownership. Before this can happen, the city plans to preserve historic and architectural elements of the building, help to provide public safety and welfare associated with the building and work with a viable private entity which would eventually purchase the building and assume ownership under conditions determined by the council with assistance from the HPC.
A report prepared by Gary W. Anderson Architects, Rockford, has been released in recent months and shows about $143,000 in immediate critical needs and nearly $4.5 million in long-term costs associated with the restoration of the Old Courthouse Building.
“The Old Courthouse presents financial, operational and capital challenges that cannot be addressed in isolation but need to be viewed in the larger context,” a staff report states.
The purpose of the Sept. 4 meeting between the council and HPC was intended to do just that. Before the discussion, Mayor Brian Sager laid out some key areas he hoped the two bodies could address. They included possible grant opportunities, priority projects and what to do with the garage building.
“All of this can kind of be daunting,” Sager said. “The Courthouse is significant as far as our history and our culture.”
Gary Anderson was in attendance to briefly introduce the courthouse report.
“At first things don’t look so bad, but when you look at the details, you can see where some work needs to be done,” Anderson said.
Anderson pointed to water issues as the main source of problems with the building.
“I think your attention should really be paid to keeping water out,” he said.
Anderson said the dome needs a lot of work to prevent moisture from entering the building.
“You can put Band-Aids on it, but it certainly needs some major surgery,” he said. Despite allowing water in, Anderson said he is not concerned about the structural integrity of the dome frame at this point.
A large amount of masonry work is needed, Anderson said. He said it will be important to hire a qualified mason who knows how to work with historic brick.
In addition to coming to a consensus on these being priority projects, the HPC and City Council said improving the condition of the main entrance also is a priority.
Nancy Baker, Woodstock city planner, noted that the city has applied for two matching grants through Landmarks Illinois program that would help pay for dome and entrance improvements. Baker said she is optimistic about both grants, especially the grant for the dome work. Recipients will be announced in November. By applying for the grant, the city has indicated it would cover the remaining half of the projects, which would be paid for using Tax Increment Financing district funds.
Despite agreeing on some priority projects, HPC Chairman Allen Stebbins requested more information about what the city hopes to recreate.
“Because [the building] is over 150 years old, do you think we should develop a period of history we should [restore it back to]?” he asked. Anderson and the council agreed a period of history should be chosen, and the HPC is being charged with identifying an era in which to restore the building.
The HPC and City Council also were unsure what to do with the garage located behind the sheriff’s office.
In April, the city filed a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the garage, which was built in 1925. That COA was withdrawn because information was not available for the HPC to make an informed decision.
Sager said he was concerned about the safety of the garage, but many on the council and HPC believed it would be premature to demolish the structure.
Council member Maureen Larson said determining an era is essential to determining the appropriateness of the structure.
“If we’re looking to restore it to the late 1800s, that building might not be as significant,” she said, since the garage was built decades later.
Discussions will continue in the near future, but no HPC or City Council meeting dates were set.