Official says historic Bloomfield courthouse needs repair

Monday, June 7, 2010

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- It has marked the town of Bloomfield as the Stoddard County seat for 140 years, built just five years after the end of the Civil War. It has witnessed the first Model A coming to town and has survived two world wars. It has cast its shadow on the grounds as veterans from the county have been honored for giving the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Now the Stoddard County Courthouse, in particular the cupola, or dome, that graces the structure, is in dire need of repair. That need, said County Presiding Commissioner Greg Mathis, couldn't have come at a worse time economically.

"We recognized in 2009 that there were problems with the dome," Mathis said, "and the commission spoke with local architectural engineer Dale Rogers about the problem."

Rogers referred the commission to a company from Fairfield Heights, Ill., to perform a comprehensive structural engineering report on the condition of the courthouse in general. That report, presented to the commission in August, spells out in detail the building's structural systems and offers a professional opinion regarding its condition.

Although the report finds the courthouse to be "in good condition considering its age," the cupola area has obvious need of repair.

The finding comes as no surprise to Mathis, whose efforts for the past several months have been focused on securing financial aid to restore the cupola.

National Registry

Thanks largely in part to the efforts of Bloomfield historian Frances Moore, the building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984. Whether that special designation places restrictions upon the work that needs to be done at the courthouse remains to be seen.

In his role as commissioner, Mathis has been in contact with a number of government entities in pursuit of financial help to repair the courthouse cupola.

"We realized the dome had some major issues in need of attention in 2009," he said. "So I first contacted the Joint Committee on Capitol Improvement and Lease Oversight in [Jefferson City] which oversees governmental buildings and sent them a letter requesting applications for any grant funding the might be available."

When told that there were no applications readily available for grant money, Mathis made a call to a representative from Missouri's Department of Natural Resources State Historic Preservation Office, but was told no funding was set aside in the 2010 budget for projects of the magnitude needed to repair the dome.

Liz Roberts at the Department of Economic Development also was contacted. She told Mathis that Community Block Development Grants cannot be placed toward the renovation of courthouses or city hall buildings.

Hoping for USDA

Finally, Mathis called Stephanie Walker and then Cathy Walters with the USDA Rural Development office in Stoddard County. The structural report of the courthouse was sent to Walters' office.

The commission is still holding out for some positive word from the USDA office.

In the meantime, a local contractor, as a favor to Mathis, took a look inside the dome and suggested covering the existing dome with copper.

Another option is replacing the dome with one made of fiberglass, but the building's National Registry status may not allow it.

Mathis, who along with Commissioner Frank Sifford has been up in the cupola of the courthouse, attests, "The interior of the dome as undergone many, many repairs over the years. There is evidence of that throughout the structure. It's time for a major renovation of the structure if it is to remain a figure of pride that for 140 years has represented Stoddard County."

"It's a tough time to be looking for funding, but we're on a mission, and we'll continue on that mission," Mathis said.

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