Texas Historical Commission
Courthouse Grant Program Continues Statewide Preservation Efforts
84th Legislature Appropriates Some $20 Million for Next Biennium
By Sharon Fleming, AIA
Director, Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program
Many are familiar with the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP) established in 1999 by former Gov. George Bush and the 76th Texas Legislature. Through the nationally acclaimed program, partnerships between the THC and Texas counties have accomplished outstanding work to restore some of Texas’ most important historic landmarks. Since the first grant cycle in 2000, the program has awarded more than $250 million to counties to fully restore 63 courthouses. An additional 28 recipients received matching grants to address emergencies and/or prepare construction plans and specifications for future projects.
The 84th Texas Legislature’s appropriation for the 2016-2017 biennium was almost $20 million. The allocation will allow the Round IX grant cycle to include limited major funding for full restoration projects; funding for the development of construction plans; and emergency grant projects as needed to address critical or urgent problems that endanger a building or its occupants. The minimum local match for a full restoration grant remains at 15 percent of the eligible project costs, but a cash overmatch will be considered as one of the scoring criteria. For a planning grant, the expected local match is 33 percent. Emergency projects typically have a 50 percent match on a maximum $450,000 grant.
THCPP eligibility stipulates that applicants must have an approved preservation master plan for their historic courthouse (at least 50 years old). The master plan is prepared by a preservation consultant selected by the applicant and includes an assessment of the current conditions of the building, identification of all needed repairs and improvements, and an estimated cost of the work.
Currently, 130 Texas counties have approved preservation master plans on file with the THC. Potential new applicants must submit a draft master plan to the THC for review and have an approved version submitted by Dec. 11. If applicants would like the opportunity for THCPP staff to review a draft document and make comments, they must submit the draft by Oct. 26. The sooner the draft is received, the sooner edits can be incorporated into the document.
Round IX applications for counties that currently qualify for THCPP are available on the THC website at www.thc.state.tx.us/thcpp. The application is similar to previous grant cycles, however a current project budget and a clearly documented scope for the proposed work are required as part of the application. Emergency projects may be selected for Round IX grants based on five scoring criteria, with major consideration on the degree of endangerment. Selection of full restoration construction and planning projects will be based upon 21 scoring criteria, all of which is described on the THC website. Applications for the Round IX grant cycle are due Jan. 8, 2016. Projects selected to receive grant funds will be announced by the THC at its April 2016 Quarterly Commission Meeting and should begin within six months of award.
Future funding for THCPP depends upon the continued support of the Texas Legislature. The program has revitalized of some of the state’s most treasured historic landmarks and created thousands of jobs in the design and construction industry, enhanced local economies, sparked downtown revitalizations, and increased heritage tourism. Additional program funding at a higher funding level will be requested by the THC as a priority item in the next legislative biennium.
For further information or to discuss an application for grant funding, contact the THC’s Architecture Division at 512-463-6094.