BENTON — After nearly 150 years, the sun has finally set on the Franklin County courthouse.
A crowd gathered Monday as county officials decommissioned the historic building. The flag was lowered and ceremoniously taken across the street and raised at Campbell Building, the county’s temporary courthouse.
Files that span generations are being moved from the Franklin County Courthouse to temporary offices across the street, the first step toward the construction of a new courthouse.
After two unsuccessful campaigns to raise taxes in order to raise funds to build a new courthouse, voters approved a temporary 1% sales tax increase for the project in 2018. The funds will cover the demolition, planning and construction of a new courthouse in the old one’s footprint.
“We gather here to say thank you to an old friend,” Franklin County Board Member John Gulley said during the event’s opening remarks.
Harl Lewis gave the invocation and provided context for the courthouse’s history. He recalled that Presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Barack Obama had paid visits to the building. Nestled among in this history were also anecdotes of bumbling attorneys and other funny happenings.
Circuit Clerk Jim Muir also spoke. He was one of the officials who took it upon himself to sell Franklin County residents on the tax to raise money for the new courthouse. Muir thanked those who helped make it a reality. To those who may still be unsure of the decision to vacate the historic building, Muir reminded them why the windshield in a car is so much bigger than the rearview — because one should spend more time looking forward than looking back.
Plans to build a new courthouse in Franklin County are moving along on schedule, but may cost more than originally anticipated, County Board Chairman Randall Crocker said.
“The same holds true for life,” Muir said.
Muir said the new courthouse will be about 47,000 square feet and three stories tall. It will also face west — he said most new people come to town from the west and he and others thought it best that the courthouse greet them as they made their way to Benton. He said it’s hoped that the new courthouse will be ready to move into in the last quarter of 2021.
County Board Chairman Randal Crocker was happy after the ceremony.
“Everything's moving forward,” said Crocker, who has had a hand in each attempt to pass the temporary sales tax increase and was pleased to see momentum building.
Crocker said the next step will be to hire an asbestos abatement company to ready the courthouse for demolition. He estimated the work would take five to six weeks, and then demolition would begin. He also added that the architect is working hard finalizing designs.
BENTON — The first major steps are being taken to bring Franklin County the modern courthouse it approved in April's election.
The rebuild has been a long time coming as conditions inside the historic structure crumbled — a cracked foundation, judicial safety concerns and retrofitted 21st century compatibility are but a handful of the old courthouse’s problems.
As it stands, Crocker has said the plan is to begin demolition of the old building this year as well as finalize for the new facility. In the meantime, offices from the old courthouse have occupied the recently-renovated Campbell Building. Some, like the clerk’s office, will stay there permanently, while others, like the Circuit Clerk’s office, will move into the new courthouse when it’s finished.
On Twitter: @ismithreports
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