Courthouse renovations almost completed

Malcolm Ervin
Posted 4/26/23

Platte County Courthouse update

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Courthouse renovations almost completed


WHEATLAND - In 1917, the Board of County Commissioners authorized the county courthouse to be built at a price of $59,996. Construction of the building began in April 1917 and was completed in an astonishing 10 months in February 1918. Since that time, the courthouse has undergone small renovations so it could continue to adapt to changing technology and workplace standards. However, the building has not undergone significant renovations in its 105-year life span – until now.

As you have noticed, courthouse offices have been temporarily displaced for approximately 18 months. In that time, we have received three primary questions: 1) how are we paying for it? 2) what is being done? 3) when are you going back?

First, “How can we afford to renovate the courthouse?”. In 2018, voters of Platte County authorized a collection of 4.7 million dollars for the purpose of completing Phase I of the courthouse renovation. Those dollars have been collected through a Specific Purpose Excise Tax (otherwise known as a 6th penny tax). This tax adds a percentage to the sales and use tax, which brings the total sales tax collection in Platte County to 6%. The 6th penny tax has been an efficient way for local governments to fund specific projects that would otherwise be unattainable – like the Legacy Home and numerous municipal infrastructure projects. The benefit of a 6th penny tax is that unlike property taxes it is not paid exclusively by Platte County residents. Instead, the 6th penny tax is collected from any individual purchasing goods within Platte County’s borders, which includes tourists, transient workers and travelers alike. In addition, Platte County has received numerous grants and has reserved funds for the purpose of renovating the courthouse. The total renovation costs are near 6.5 million dollars.

Although it is not a frequently asked question, you should know that this project has progressed under budget. The cost of renovating is near 6.5 million dollars, which means the project is approximately $162 per square foot – an incredibly low figure given the complexities associated with renovations. Platte County has mastered the art of utilizing our dollars as efficiently as possible and this project is no exception.  

Second, “What is being done?” Originally, Phase I of renovations was to include the basement, hallways and replacement of the elevator. The basement includes the area where dispatch is located, commissioner room and the jail which was used until 2001. The basement renovations required that those jail cells be removed and that space be repurposed as a courtroom for the circuit court. Removing those cells was a major task and required significant demolition in the basement area.

Due to those significant demolition requirements, it became obvious that Platte County offices and courts needed to relocate in order for the public to be served without interruption. Once offices were relocated, the Board of County Commissioners opted to utilize additional grant and reserve funding to complete Phase II of the renovation. The completion of both Phase I & Phase II means every interior square inch will have undergone renovations – a tremendous undertaking!

What did these extensive renovations include? For starters, a central heating and air conditioning system was installed, which operates more efficiently than the electric heaters and wall-mounted air conditioners that once adorned the building. The exterior walls were all insulated, again improving efficiency and lowering the county’s monthly utility payments. The wall insulation took the walls of the courthouse from an “R value” of 1.5 to an approximate “R value” of 15. Additionally, the building has been retrofitted with all-new electric and plumbing. Nearly 11 miles of Cat6 data cable has been installed. These new electric and data capabilities allow offices to be more connected than ever before – thus increasing our efficiency which enhances our ability to assist Platte County citizens. The dispatch facility was also renovated and outfitted to ensure dispatchers are comfortable and more prepared to answer the phone when you need assistance most desperately.

Perhaps most notable to Platte County citizens is the relocation of the courthouse elevator. The elevator once resided in the center of the building making it not easily accessible. Now, the elevator resides in an addition, which was placed on the south side of the building – as you have undoubtedly noticed by now. Great care was taken to ensure this addition was covered in brick that almost perfectly matches the original courthouse brick. This relocation of the elevator ensures greater accessibility to everyone as all Platte County citizens deserve the opportunity to access county services.

Rest assured, the history of the building has been preserved and in many ways the building has been improved. The wood trim and original staircases remain but the ceiling in the District Court courtroom was restored to its original height. Preserving the historic nature of the building, while allowing the space to be functional and efficient in the 21st century, was a delicate balance but we believe the public will be very pleased to see how well that balance was navigated.

Lastly, “When will the courthouse reopen?” The time has come to finally announce that the building will reopen July 1. On that date, a dedication ceremony will take place, followed by tours of the renovated space. More details will follow soon but the courthouse offices will offer limited hours during the last week of June to allow them to be moved back to the renovated courthouse. We cannot express how grateful we are to the people of Platte County for their patience, supportiveness and understanding throughout this renovation – we assure you that the wait will be worth it!

This project has been a tremendous success thanks to the dedication of Sampson Construction and their many sub-contractors, GSG Architecture and countless others who have dedicated time and attention to the courthouse renovation. The County is in the process of planning for Phase III of the renovation, which includes exterior preservation of the building. The public will be asked at a special election in November 2023 whether the sixth penny tax should continue to be collected for multiple projects – one of which is the preservation of the courthouse’s exterior. The interior renovation will mean very little if the exterior of the building is not preserved as well. Our hope is that the courthouse can be in operation for at least another 105 years.