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York Historical Society enters courthouse debate

Members of the Yorkville Historical Society say they want York County leaders to hear their concerns in a growing debate concerning the future of York’s historic courthouse.

About 55 members of the group gathered Thursday night at McCelvey Center to hear about the status of the downtown courthouse renovation project and talk about how to move forward.

“As soon as the courthouse employees move out, downtown is done,” said Vern Eakin, past president of the group. “The only thing we’ve got saving our downtown right now is the county employees. They are trying to kill our downtown.”

Eakin and others who attended the meeting said downtown would lose significant traffic and restaurants and other businesses would be hurt if county employees move. They also said the courthouse is an important landmark in York’s history.

Gary Gross, vice president of the historical society, said after Thursday’s meeting that the society plans to write a letter to County Council members and voice its concerns about the courthouse.

“We need to really get on top of this,” he told members of the group before the meeting, “because we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t.”

Gross said the courthouse, which will mark its 100th anniversary this year, should be preserved for an appropriate use as a court building.

The historical society meeting was in response to a discussion about the cost of the courthouse renovation and the future of the building during an Aug. 18 meeting of the York County Council.

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.

During the meeting, council chairman Britt Blackwell called the county’s courthouse renovation project “an absolute disaster.”

Assistant County Manager David Larson said in an email to the Enquirer-Herald that the overall renovation of the courthouse has been estimated by the architect at a cost of $11.2 million.

He said that includes $8.1 million for construction and $3.1 million for design services, abatement work, furniture, inspection fees and other costs.

Larson said the county has about $4.2 million in the courthouse project budget. That’s about $7 million short of the amount estimated it would need.

Larson said the county has spent about $1.3 million so far on the courthouse, including for the abatement of mold and asbestos, architectural services, some site work and lease payments for rental space for the Clerk of Court and Common Pleas.

He said the county staff is evaluating options for the courthouse building and reviewing the budget for the project. He did not indicate any timetable for making a decision.

Blackwell said he and other council members are waiting to hear recommendations from the county staff about possibilities for the courthouse.

However, he told the Enquirer-Herald that the County Council is concerned about the cost of completing the project.

“A majority of the council is not going to support another $8 million put into that courthouse,” Blackwell told the Enquirer-Herald. “It’s a money pit.”

York Mayor Eddie Lee earlier this month wrote a letter to Blackwell and other council members on behalf of the City Council, asking him to update city leaders on the status of the courthouse.

“They need to know it’s not just about a courthouse, it’s about downtown businesses,” Lee said during the historical society meeting.

Paul Boger, executive director of the Greater York Chamber of Commerce, urged historical society members to voice their views to the York County Council and to attend meetings.

“We need the County Council to understand what they are doing if they strip all these things out, what it does to our community,” Boger said.