York Historical Society enters courthouse debate

Members of the Yorkville Historical Society want York County leaders to hear their concerns in a growing debate concerning the future of York’s historic courthouse.

About 55 members of the group gathered recently at the McCelvey Center to hear about the status of the downtown courthouse renovation project and to talk about how to move forward.

“As soon as the courthouse employees move out, downtown is done,” said Vern Eakin, past president of the group. “The only thing we’ve got saving our downtown right now is the county employees. They are trying to kill our downtown.”

Eakin and others said downtown York would lose significant traffic, and restaurants and other businesses would be hurt if county employees move. They also said the courthouse is an important landmark in the city’s history.

Gary Gross, vice president of the historical society, said after Thursday’s meeting that the society plans to write a letter to the York County Council to voice its concerns.

“We need to really get on top of this,” he told members of the group, “because we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t.”

The courthouse, which will mark its 100th anniversary this year, should be preserved for an appropriate use as a court building, Gross said.

The historical society meeting was in response to a discussion about the cost of the courthouse renovation and the future of the building during an August meeting of the County Council.

Council members discussed several options for the future of the courthouse, including the possibility of using it for records storage. The council also heard about the possibility of moving civil courts to the Moss Justice Center outside York.

During County Council meeting, Chairman Britt Blackwell called the courthouse renovation project “an absolute disaster.”

The cost of the renovation of the courthouse has been estimated by the architect at $11.2 million, assistant county manager David Larson said. That includes $8.1 million for construction and $3.1 million for design services, abatement work, furniture and inspection fees.

The county has about $4.2 million in the courthouse project budget, Larson said. That’s about $7 million short of the amount estimated it would need.

The county has spent about $1.3 million so far on the courthouse, he said, including for abatement of mold and asbestos, architectural services, some site work and lease payments for rental space for the Clerk of Court and the Court of Common Pleas.

County officials are evaluating options for the courthouse building and reviewing the budget for the project, Larson said. He did not indicate any timetable for making a decision.

Blackwell and other council members are waiting to hear recommendations from the county staff about possibilities for the courthouse.

“A majority of the council is not going to support another $8 million put into that courthouse,” Blackwell said. “It’s a money pit.”

York Mayor Eddie Lee wrote a letter to Blackwell and other County Council members last month on behalf of the City Council, asking him to update city leaders on the status of the courthouse.

“They need to know it’s not just about a courthouse, it’s about downtown businesses,” Lee said during the historical society meeting.

Paul Boger, executive director of the Greater York Chamber of Commerce, urged historical society members to voice their views to the County Council and to attend meetings.

“We need the County Council to understand what they are doing if they strip all these things out,” he said, “what it does to our community.”