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Commission skeptical about joining historic registry

11/5/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Ellis County commissioners remain unconvinced it would be a good idea to add the county courthouse to the Register of Historic Kansas Places.

However, at least one of them wants to know how much would be available in tax credits for the remodeling project by putting it on the register.

At Monday evening's regular meeting at Ellis County Courthouse, architects for the county's projects at the courthouse and for the new EMS/rural fire building gave presentations.

Andrew Pitts of Treanor Architects detailed plans for the courthouse, which include just one secure entry for the public, on the south side of the building. The doors on the west side would be for emergency exit only. Those doors would be monitored and an alarm would be set off if one of those doors is propped open from the inside to allow unauthorized entry.

When Pitts breezed through the process of how the courthouse could be taken off the register, he was stopped by Commissioner Barbara Wasinger, who was skeptical, due to the experience her sister had with a house on the registry.

"Really? That easy?" Wasinger asked Pitts.

Pitts said the only thing that would happen by taking the courthouse off the registry is it would not be eligible for future tax credits.

Commissioner Swede Holmgren also was skeptical about putting the courthouse on the registry.

"I love Historic Fort Hays, and this town is all about history. But this courthouse has been here a long, long time without being on the state register," Holmgren said. "I will tell you putting this building on the state register of historic places is just like (regulations for) the lesser prairie chicken that we're battling to fight out here. It's more government involved in our lives."

Pitts was confident the register would not have problems with the plans for the courthouse.

"I would have all the confidence that we would be able to have that approved," he said. "The benefit for this project is going to be the tax credits that would be gained through the project."

"I love tax credits," Wasinger said. "(But) the devil, you're inviting him into your home."

"So you see any major tax credits we would be missing out on, or not?," Chairman Dean Haselhorst asked Pitts.

"There's significant dollars you can put back into the project, which is why I'm bringing that to you," Pitts said.

Haselhorst requested Pitts to come up with an estimate of how much the project would receive in tax credits.

Commissioners also were given a presentation on the EMS/rural fire building from Brad Teeter of Spangenberg Phillips Tice Architects. The design for that building had to be changed when the original concept did not meet city code.

The new, L-shaped building at 22nd Street and General Hays Road will be 31,000 square feet and house ambulances and rural fire trucks, as well as administrative offices. Teeter said the project potentially could go out for bid as early as this week. If that were the case, the project could be finished sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas next year.

There still are some project details the architect needs to check with the city on before continuing. City officials worked with the county to come up with a solution for the original plans, which did not meet city code because the building was too tall for where it was located. A sloped roof on one side was the solution.

"As county commissioners, I would like to publicly thank the mayor, city commission and also City Manager Toby Dougherty and his entire staff for the work they did, working with the county in resolving this hoo-hah," Holmgren said. "I would hope that we all learned a lesson from this, and that as we go forward we hold the architect and the design folks' feet to the fire, that they will -- in fact -- check city code, county code before this goes any farther."

Wasinger also thanked the city for its cooperation.

"They were very accommodating for a mistake that I know you're more than willing to take full responsibility for," she told Teeter. "It was very embarrassing, for all of us. I agree with Commissioner Holmgren: This can't ever happen again."

"This should never happen at this point," Haselhorst said. In other business:

* Commissioners approved a request for proposals to area engineering firms for a bridge project.

* Commissioners approved bids for work on drainage improvements at the county building at 601 Main.

* Commissioners were updated on ongoing issues with emergency radios and communications center equipment. County officials learned the antennas on the roof of the Law Enforcement Center are pointed at the Spring Hill tower and not the tower on 55th Street, and are in the process of re-orienting them. County Administrator Greg Sund said the cost of replacing dispatch consoles might be less than originally anticipated. He estimated the cost could be approximately $460,000, not the previous approximate $1 million estimate.

* Because of Veterans Day, a county holiday, next week's meeting will be Tuesday.