Douglas County Courthouse’s limestone exterior could see renovation

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

The Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on March 13, 2019.

The stonework of the historic Douglas County Courthouse could see some renovations in the next couple of years.

The Douglas County Commission attended a preliminary work session on the next five-year capital improvement plan on Wednesday. Much of the plan is still up in the air, and several projects would largely depend on whether the city of Lawrence plans to pursue them or defer them to later years.

However, commissioners did indicate they’d be interested in starting a project that has been put off for several years: renovations to the exterior of the Douglas County Courthouse.

The limestone of the building’s exterior is permeable, Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said, and some foundational problems are becoming more severe over time. The longer the county waits to do the work, the more expensive the eventual project is likely to be, she said in response to a question from Commissioner Patrick Kelly.

“It’s pretty sad to see what’s happening to this beautiful building,” Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau said. She noted that she would like county staff to look into what sort of grants might be available to help cover costs.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said the project has been on the back burner since she started in her role “a lifetime ago” — she was first elected in 2008 — and she would be in favor of finding a way to get the courthouse done.

The commission does not take formal action during work sessions; however, Plinsky said it helped to get some direction on that project.

Staff first began to move offices into the historic building in January of 1905, according to a page on the county’s website,

In other business:

In her comments to the commission, Plinsky said that an archaeological field survey into the site of a planned behavioral health campus has not turned up any archaeological remains that would indicate that the site contains unmarked burials.

Delaware Tribe historians said there could be archaeological and human remains on the site, which is in the 1000 block of West Second Street. The historians had requested that an archaeological field survey that includes subsurface testing be conducted before the project goes forward, the Journal-World reported in February.

Plinsky said staff had heard from Eric Skov, an archaeologist with the Kansas Historical Society’s Contract Archaeological Program, that he had conducted the testing on April 24, and “despite the intensity of the survey and the potential of the area to contain cultural remains, no significant cultural resources were found within the project area.”

She said Skov’s formal report would come to the commission after review and comment from the Delaware Tribe and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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