POLK COUNTY — Matt Hawkins walks around the historic Polk County Courthouse. He touches the limestone walls and a piece of it falls into his hand. He shows how it quickly turns to sand.
The condition of the courthouse and the annex have fallen into a bad state after having been “put on the back burner” for at least the last 33 years, said County Manager Greg Hansen.
Delaying maintenance on facilities is common in government, he said.
“While you’re trying to keep your head above water,” Hansen said. “We were trying to do that with the public safety levy, and try and keep as many officers on the road.”
A new state transportation package means the county won’t likely have to try and renew a road bond for a while — Polk County’s road bond expired in 2016.
Hansen said that is key in the county’s decision to pursue a courthouse complex facilities bond. The $9.7 million bond, which will be on May’s ballot, is for 15 years, 11 cents per $1,000 assessed value.
“It’s probably going to average about 10 cents (per $1,000),” Hansen said.
The request is different from the May 2017 one in that it focuses solely on the historic courthouse and the “new building,” otherwise called the annex. Last year’s request included upgrades and improvements on other county buildings as well.
The need is great, Hansen said. The annex needs a new roof. Both buildings need exterior windows replaced. The historic building needs exterior restoration, and to be sealed to preserve it. Both elevators will be replaced if the bond passes. The exterior of the annex will get a face lift.
“It still will not be a beautiful building, but it will be better than what exists today,” Hansen said. “Hopefully it will co-habitat better with the historic building.”
The outside will be worked on, too.
“We will probably work with the city of Dallas and the community to figure those things out,” Hansen said. “We’re a pretty full part of the community, and the courthouse square is used many different times for many different functions.”
Commissioner Craig Pope said he understands complaints that the buildings look dirty and unkempt.
“I’ve looked at the film and the pictures, and yeah, that’s a valid complaint,” he said. “It’s got a lot of moss on it, a lot of green. But the fact is, if we did it, we’d blow chunks of that limestone right off. Part of that process is to put a protective exterior that will allow us to do a better job of keeping it clean.”
But Hansen said that while it will be a goal to maintain the facility, he can never guarantee maintenance will be a priority.
“Anything we have to maintain this building may be diverted to maintain something else,” he said, using public safety as an example.
The bond monies also would go to relocating the emergency generator inside the historic building, Hansen said.
“When it runs, all the fumes come into the courthouse and it’s quite noisy,” he said. “We will relocate that to the exterior. We’ll figure out a way to conceal that.”
Security upgrades, a remodel of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and better ADA access, also top the list of improvements if the bond passes, Hansen said.
“That’s another problem we have,” Hansen said. “People get lost between these buildings so easily, so we hope to improve the movement between the buildings somehow, someway. Can you solve it all? Probably not since they’re built on the half floors. But all of those items will be addressed.”
An account for a political action committee has been set up to help promote the passage of the bond, Pope said.
Anyone interested in donating or helping in the efforts should contact one of the three Polk County commissioners.
For more information: co.polk.or.us.