Preservation Program Continuing with Limited Funds
By Sharon Fleming, Director, Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program
Many are familiar with the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP) that was established in 1999 by then-Gov. George W. Bush and the 76th Texas Legislature. Through this nationally recognized program, outstanding work has been accomplished by Texas counties in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission (THC) to restore some of Texas’ most important historic landmarks. Since the first grant cycle in 2000, the THCPP program has awarded more than $247 million to counties to fully restore 63 courthouses, address emergency projects, and/or prepare construction plans and specifications.
However, due to other funding priorities and available bond funding limits, the final appropriation by the 83rd Texas Legislature for the FY 2014-15 biennium was limited to just slightly more than $4.2 million. While this means a significant reduction in funding and a temporary setback for the 75 remaining counties that currently qualify to receive major funding, grant opportunities remain available for FY 2014-15. After careful consideration, the THC will temporarily administer the program’s next grant cycle to support smaller grant projects that address urgent and critical needs. The goal will be to resolve any deficiencies that affect the building’s usability or that constitute structural or life-safety problems. A proposed project may be considered a first phase for a future preservation project, and counties are encouraged to consider a future full restoration as additional program funds are available.
As examples of previously awarded emergency projects, Upshur and Karnes counties both received grant awards in Round VII targeted for specific needs. Upshur County received a 90-page report in 2011 from the Department of Justice requiring alterations to its county buildings for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act on the basis of a formal citizen complaint. The remedial grant-funded work for the 1936 Upshur County Courthouse includes a new handicapped accessible exterior ramp and accessible restrooms on the first floor.
Structural instability of the Karnes County Courthouse was identified in 2004 and had worsened due to a 1920s addition pulling away from the original 1895 building. As part of an initial grant-funded phase of a major restoration project, the unstable addition was removed, and the building’s original brick foundation was significantly reinforced and stabilized. Other counties that have received emergency THCPP grant funds include: Bandera, Cameron, Fannin, Glasscock, Harrison, Hopkins, Lee, Leon, McLennan, Marion, Mason, Maverick, Montague, Newton, Nueces, Polk, Rains, Randall, San Saba, Trinity, Tyler and Wharton.
To be eligible for a Round VIII THCPP grant award in 2014, applicants must have an approved preservation master plan for their historic (more than 50 years old) courthouse. The master plan is prepared by a preservation consultant selected by the county and identifies the existing conditions of the building, as well as identifies needed repairs and improvements along with the estimated cost of the work.
Currently, 127 Texas counties currently have approved master plans on file at the THC. Potential applicants that have not previously participated in the grant program must submit a master plan to the THC for review and have an approved version submitted by Jan.17, 2014. For those counties that have not previously submitted an application, go to http://www.thc.state.tx.us/preserve/projects-and-programs/texas-historic-courthouse-preservation.
For counties that wish to apply for Round VIII grant funding, applications are now available on the THC website at http://www.thc.state.tx.us/preserve/projects-and-programs/texas-historic-courthouse-preservation. Forms and procedures for this grant cycle are streamlined from previous application rounds to focus on the critical need and how it can be addressed with a smaller grant award. A project budget and a clearly written scope of work are required as part of the application. Projects will be selected for Round VIII grants on a scoring system weighted and based primarily on the urgency of the problem. Applications for Round VIII are due on Feb. 13, 2014. Funding awards will be announced by the THC in April 2014, and the projects should be underway before January 2015.
Future funding for the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program depends upon the continued support of the Texas Legislature. Not only has program funding led to revitalization of some of our state’s most treasured historic landmarks – our Texas courthouses – it has created thousands of jobs in the design and construction industry, directly and indirectly 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 your application for grant funding, contact the preservation program staff at 512-463-6094.