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City to York County: Save courthouse

As York County leaders mull the future of the historic courthouse in downtown York, city leaders and some residents want to make sure their voices are heard.

Some City Council members and residents indicated they were incensed by comments made during an Aug. 18 County Council meeting on the future of the courthouse, which has been under renovation since January.

“When you take something apart, you put it back together again,” said York Mayor Eddie Lee, who raised the issue during the City Council’s Sept. 2 meeting.

Council members and some residents reacted after watching a 13-minute video segment from the Aug. 18 County Council meeting, during which council chairman Britt Blackwell called the county’s courthouse renovation project “an absolute disaster.”

The county panel discussed several options for the future of the courthouse, including the possibility of using it for records storage. The council also heard about the possibility of moving the civil courts to the Moss Justice Center outside York.

County staff members told the county panel that the courthouse renovation project, which was originally estimated at $6 million, may require another $8 million to complete.

Some council members balked at the idea of investing more money in the courthouse. Blackwell was the most vocal, arguing that the county must explore other options.

Lee, who noted that the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 due to its notable architecture, argued that the City Council should take a strong position that the county must finish the renovation work.

He also said he was opposed to using the courthouse for records storage.

Lee said one of the reasons the century-old building is notable is because the architect was William Augustus Edwards, the architect for five other courthouses in South Carolina.

Some residents agreed. Among them was Gary Gross, a member of the Yorkville Historical Society.

“We seem to be taking things out of York,” Gross said, referring to the movement of county offices and services. “If we continue to allow the historic nature of our city to be decimated, what do we have left downtown?”

Paul Boger, executive director of the Greater York Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “This is the county seat for York. This is where the county was run from,” he said.

The idea of closing the courthouse, Boger said, “is inconceivable.”

Council member John Shiflet said he shares the concern about the future of the courthouse, but “I’m not sure I have all the information I need.”

He said the council should talk about how to express its concern.

After some discussion, the City Council agreed to have Lee write a letter to Blackwell, asking that he visit York to update city leaders on plans for the courthouse.

Lee said the letter, dated Sept. 5, was sent to all County Council and York City Council members.

It requests “being briefed on your plans to complete the job, which has caused the relocation of several county offices in the county seat, inconvenience for York County citizens and adversely affected downtown York.”

In an interview with the Enquirer-Herald, Blackwell said he is happy to speak with city leaders after he learns more from the county staff, which “is trying to figure out what options we do have.”

He said the council is concerned about the cost. “A majority of the council is not going to support another $8 million put into that courthouse,” Blackwell said. “It’s a money pit.”

But Councilman Joe Cox, whose district includes York, argued for the courthouse preservation. “It’s a centerpoint of York. It’s been there for 100-plus years. You’ve got to restore it. It’s a county asset,” Cos said.

Cox said the county needs to find the money to finish the work. “What it needs to be used for is what it was used for, which is a court,” he said.

County Councilman Chad Williams said he would prefer the courthouse stay downtown, but “we’ve got to be fiscally responsible ... There needs to be some public use, even if it’s not a courthouse, because it is a historic property.”

Williams said one option may be to make only part of the courthouse accessible to the public. He said a significant cost involves making the courthouse accessible.

William “Bump” Roddey also said he would prefer to preserve the courthouse, “but we have a duty to spend money wisely, and we are struggling right now to make the call.”

Roddey said: “We’re kind of at a crossroads. We know we need to make a decision on which way to go...It’s going to be a hard decision regardless of which way we go.”

Lee said the city needs to argue for the future of a functioning courthouse. “This beautiful building needs someone to stand up for it,” he said.

Blackwell said the county can’t tear the building down because of its historic significance, but “there’s just no way to continue to throw money at this situation...The staff is just trying to figure out what options we do have.”