Cape County has plans with funds for old federal courthouse

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cape Girardeau County's officeholders, whether they reside in the Common Pleas Courthouse or Jackson administration building, may have seen themselves preparing to move operations to an empty courthouse on Broadway while looking ahead just one year ago. More than $2 million was in hand after refinancing jail bonds, and the auction was ongoing. The county had enough to buy and likely enough to refurbish the former federal courthouse owned by the General Services Administration. Negotiations ensued, but the deal fell through.

Now, said Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy, "the county has moved on."

"And who could blame us, really," he said.

By the spring of 2012, it looked unlikely the county would work out a deal with the GSA, although county officials had worked to purchase the empty courthouse since the time its workers moved into the new federal courthouse on Independence Street.

This year the county is working to put that money to another use by spending instead on capital improvements. Without a capital improvements tax in place, and with county facilities running into numerous condition issues during the past several years, going to plan B with the funds makes sense, said Paul Koeper, associate commissioner. Continuing to plan for a new consolidated courthouse hasn't left the minds of county officials, either, since around $100,000 of the capital improvement funds resulting from bond refinancing is paying for an architect to create a long-range plan for future courtroom and office space.

Projects the county has completed so far this year or are currently underway include remodeling offices for the public administrator and recorder of deeds, purchasing property behind the county archive center in Jackson and tearing down a house on the property to create parking, buying new voting equipment, upgrading computer software, repairing concrete in the county administration building and replacing roofs on the Common Pleas Courthouse, the Common Pleas annex building and the juvenile assessment center. A total of $490,550 worth of improvement projects have been funded to date, which is around half of the amount the county set out to spend on capital improvements this year and in 2013.

The county is counting on most of the money spent replacing roofs on the courthouse, annex and assessment center coming from insurance and reimbursements from state and federal emergency management, since the roofs were damaged by storms last spring. Receiving those reimbursements, however, could take some time, according to Koeper.

Upcoming projects will include weather-sealing the archive center building, construction to solve issues with stormwater runoff around the jail, tuckpointing, sealing and cleaning of the jail, and, depending on the results of the architect's facilities study, enhanced security and renovations at the Common Pleas and Jackson courthouses. Koeper is also seeking a grant to replace sidewalks around the Jackson courthouse that would require some matching funds from the county.

Projects were selected through consultation with the various county officeholders.

Treasurer Roger Hudson said the county has until November 2014 to spend the money from the jail bond refinance as dictated by the contract agreements that extend the life of the bonds from 2018 to 2022. The county leveraged savings on bond payments with the refinance process. Under the old agreement, the interest rate on the bonds would have reached 4.25 percent in 2018. With the refinance in place, the county is paying 2 percent this year opposed to 3.6 percent it would have paid without the refinance and will pay an estimated 3.375 percent in 2022. Granted, Hudson said, the payments will last an extra four years. Koeper called the move by commissioners to approve the refinance last October that provided the capital improvement fund "a nice tool to be able to keep things up."

The old federal courthouse, located at 339 Broadway, was still on the market as of Monday, placed there in May by RDRH Holdings, a Texas company, after the company bought the building for $325,000 from the GSA. The asking price is $1 million.

Tracy said the county had to "put on the brakes" when the building's new owner sought a price officials deemed too high considering the work the building would need to make it suitable for use. As for using the funds brought by refinancing the jail bonds for other purposes, Tracy said he believes it is unfortunate the county had to make the decision to move past the courthouse purchase attempts, but he believes county services and residents will ultimately benefit from the updates facilities will receive as a result.

"Sure, it's not always the sexiest thing to do, but it's like being a homeowner," he said. "You have to do what you can to make improvements wherever you can."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

339 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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