Pulaski County Council, Commissioners Weigh Options for Courthouse

The Pulaski County Council and Commissioners discuss the courthouse with Todd Zeiger with Indiana Landmarks.

Pulaski County officials are considering their options when it comes to the future of the county courthouse and other government buildings. The county council and commissioners discussed a few ideas during a special joint meeting Monday.

They heard a proposal from Commissioner Jerry Locke that would leave the historic courthouse in place, but move all government functions elsewhere. “The courthouse would remain standing,” he explained. “If the Historical Society or any other investors would want to purchase it to preserve it, put shops in it, or any other ideas they might have, this would be the best of both worlds. If we would do something like this, the courthouse would still be standing, and we would save millions of dollars.”

As part of Locke’s proposal, Circuit Court and the Clerk’s Office would move across the street to the Justice Center, which would be expanded vertically. Meanwhile, the offices of the Auditor, Assessor, Recorder, Treasurer, and Microfilm Department would go to the Highway Garage, in the space that’s currently the Community Room. The Surveyor’s Office would move to the Annex Building.

However, Council Member Kathi Thompson had some concerns with Locke’s idea. “I understand it keeps the outgoing costs lower, but then there’s the cost to the community of having this historic building lay empty,” she said. “I can tell you right now, the Historical Society is not going to get this building. We don’t want this building. We don’t have millions of dollars in our back pockets to care care of this.”

“Then why should our taxpayers?” responded Commissioner Mike McClure.

Council Member Ken Boswell added that even if the county government were to move out of the courthouse, it would still be responsible for it until it would be sold. “I truly think, looking at as many storefronts as we have empty in the town now, that we’re not going to have shops in our courthouse,” he said. “That’s probably not going to happen. We’re not Lake County. We’re not going to develop it like that. I mean, that’s a reality, and we need to understand that. The reality is, as long as the county owns this building, we have to maintain it. We can’t let it fall down.”

Thompson suggested moving the Assessor’s Office into the commissioners’ meeting room in the courthouse and the Surveyor’s Office to the Annex Building or Highway Garage, while Indiana Landmarks works with Rowland Design on an updated plan. Council Member Rudy DeSabatine offered a completely different alternative. He said someone has offered to build a brand new building and rent it to the county for $20 per square foot per year.

Meanwhile, Todd Zeiger with Indiana Landmarks reminded county officials that his organization has offered to pick up the cost of a study to analyze the various concerns with the courthouse. Before moving ahead, though, he wanted a commitment that whatever plan Rowland Design comes up with would at least be given serious consideration. “This is an important asset for your community, and having this building, this landmark, go empty is not a positive solution,” Zeiger said. “It’s not helpful for the downtown. It’s not helpful for the county, in our opinion. And we just think that having another look at this building and how you could adapt it, renovate it, move some things around, utilize the things that you already have – you mentioned you’ve got four buildings. Let’s continue to use this one for your uses. That’s the best use for a historic courthouse, is continued county use.”

In the end, the commissioners agreed to let Rowland Design do its study, at Indiana Landmarks’ expense. Zeiger said that process could take a couple months.

There are a few steps that can be taken in the meantime, like moving offices out of the courthouse basement. Commissioner Locke said the Surveyor’s Office will likely be moved to the Annex Building next week, forcing the relocation of the IT Department to the Highway Garage or West Annex. The Assessor’s Office will be moved to a location still to be determined sometime after that.