CASS COUNTY, Mich. -- The 1899 Cass County Courthouse is a community icon and landmark—that is also a vacant and abandoned building.
It has been that way since the county courts moved out more than ten years ago.
“The building has been empty since 2003, and it’s not had heating or air conditioning since 2007,” said Cass County Administrator Roger Frazier. “It’s been closed up and it’s been sort of a lab for growing mold.”
The mold comes courtesy of moisture that has seeped in through the first floor west wall. “Hydraulically, the water has pushed through and it’s allowed the mortar to fail in certain areas. This is the worst of it,” said Maintenance Supervisor Dave Dickey.
This is the year county officials have taken some steps to address the situation.
Commissioners have contracted to have mold removed and to have the heating and cooling system fixed.
“I voted no, not because I didn't want the building to stand, I voted no because there wasn't a plan to save the building,” said Commissioner Skip Dyes. “We don't know what we're going to do with the building yet, so how can you even spend any money?”
But the $300,000 the commissioners have approved thus far will basically allow the county more time to keep its options open.
“If we stabilize the building, they can take three or four years to come up, even with a plan before they start to work and the building will still be here and it’ll be okay,” said Frazier.
In February, Cass County residents were asked for their opinions on the future of the courthouse. Nearly 500 surveys were returned with more than 90-percent favoring the preservation of the building.
“I think they should fix it,” said Cass County resident April King. “It adds a lot of historic value to the town and I would hate to see it go.”
On the survey, residents suggested that the renovated building be used as a homeless center, a movie theatre, a library, and a senior center.
“All my life I’ve lived in this area and I would like this building to stand. I do recognize that it could be a long reach. It’s going to be a hard reach because it could be millions of dollars and it’s hard to justify, people are going instead of going for millions of dollars we can build one for less money,” said Skip Dyes.
“What I’m trying to do is get out of the thinking of this being a tax based restoration,” said Frazier. “It seems to me that across the country, as you see what people have done in other areas to restore buildings they’ve managed to find ways to do it without relying on property tax.”
A county committee looking into the courthouse renovation will hold its next meeting this Thursday.