Renovated courthouse is impressive structure

The newly refurbished York County Courthouse is likely to convince even some skeptics that bringing the century-old building back to life was a good idea.

The proposal to renovate the courthouse and retain it as the centerpiece of county government operations came in for some heated debate when it was first introduced. A significant number of people thought building an extension to the Moss Justice Center on York Highway to replace the courthouse was a better option.

In the end, though, the municipal leaders of York, the city’s merchants, residents and citizens concerned about historic preservation prevailed. They argued – and we concurred – that the courthouse is an iconic structure, 102 years old, located in the historic heart of the city, which couldn’t be replicated anywhere else.

It needed to remain a central, functioning part of the city.

The cost of renovating the courthouse was estimated to be slightly less than building a new courthouse at a different location. But that was not really the deciding factor that tipped the County Council’s decision to renovate.

More important was the argument that retaining the courthouse and other county offices in downtown York was essential to the economic well being of the county seat. Moving offices and the workers who occupied them outside of the city would have been devastating for local restaurants and other businesses that rely on the workers as regular customers. Economic activity downtown would have dried up, according to residents.

But we also think the courthouse building, with $10 million in renovations, makes a good case for itself. Workers recently were putting the finishing touches on renovations that began in earnest two years ago. The courthouse now is an elegant nod to the past with all the necessary amenities and safety features of a modern building.

The courthouse will feature new security measures. All visitors will enter through a side entrance and go through X-ray and metal detector checks.

The building now has two elevators, one on each side, and ramps to bring it in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nearly all of the building’s 150 windows have been replaced, and new insulation has been added throughout.

There will be public computers and Wi-Fi available on the first and second floors. And office and meeting spaces have been enlarged to give employees and visitors more room.

But the courthouse also retains many of the original elements that made it a building grand enough to denote the county seat. Perhaps the most impressive is the central courtroom itself, which has had a complete facelift.

It has newly refinished wood floors, and its soaring cathedral-style ceiling has been replastered and repainted.

No official opening date has been set for the courthouse, but officials say it will be ready by mid- to late December. That will be a red-letter day for the county.

We applaud the residents of York for fighting to preserve this historic building. And we are grateful that the council had the foresight to approve the plan.

Cities and counties across the nation used to build magnificent city halls, courthouses and other major public buildings as a point of civic pride and an expression of communal identity. But more recently, practicality supplanted grandeur, and our public buildings began to take on a utilitarian plainness that did little to make the heart soar.

People aren’t building as many noble public structures these days, certainly not ones as impressive as the York County Courthouse. We’re glad that this wonderful building has survived and will continue to thrive in the service of justice for which it was first conceived.