Monday, June 24, 2013

TOP STORY >> Elevator grant for courthouse

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin announced during the Thursday night quorum court meeting that he has secured funding to build a three-story elevator in the 85-year-old county courthouse.

Erwin, in his third year as county judge, said he had tried unsuccessfully since he took office to get grants to add an elevator. But he tried again and this time, he got $141,300 from the Historic Preservation Program that is part of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. But since the elevator is estimated at $200,000, Erwin said Senators Eddie Joe Williams and Jonathan Dismang have promised $30,000 each.

Williams explained Friday morning that the money will come from the state’s general improvement fund. It will be distributed through Central Arkansas Planning and Development District in Lonoke and that the county will have to apply with CAPDD to get it. However, he said, approval is almost certain because of the matching money the county is getting through the grant from Historic Preservation and because it is a good project.

“This is a project that benefits the entire county, not just a few people,” the senator said.
The antiquated chair lift kept the county in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act, he said, but it was far from adequate.

Erwin said Cabot architect Bob Schelle has done the preliminary work on the elevator. It will be built into the rear of the existing building and will take some space from the county clerk and prosecuting attorney. But he said neither official will oppose the construction because the elevator is needed.

Last month, the quorum court approved, at Erwin’s request, spending $140,000 to replace the mortar on the brick courthouse which leaks when it rains and is beginning to crumble.

Erwin received a $45,000 grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage to re-mortar a six foot strip around the top of the third floor of the building and Mid-Continental Restoration of Fort Scott, Kansas, which did that work will continue, possibly within a month with replacing the mortar on the rest of the building.

“It’s been a goal of mine to restore it,” he said.

The quorum court also voted to allow the judge to advertise for sale to be moved a yellow house owned by the county. The house is one of three houses adjacent to the old jail behind the courthouse. The other two are not worth moving and will be torn down, the judge said. The vacant lots will be used for a parking lot.

“On the days we have jury duty, you can’t find a parking space within a block of the courthouse,” the judge said. “We have parking for 50 and 150 show up.”

The quorum court vote was really a courtesy because the judge asked for it. As JP Bill Ryker pointed out, county property is the judge’s domain. He didn’t need their permission.
In other business:

The quorum court voted to pay legal fees to Rainwater, Holt and Sexton. The court approved $500 for advice to stop collecting the voluntary tax for non-profits and $4,315 for the lawsuit filed by an employee in the circuit clerk’s office who said she was not paid for the hours she worked.

The quorum court also voted to pay $4,474 for legal services when the city of Lonoke sued the county in circuit court after the county cut back on the amount it paid to help run the district courts located in the cities. The county lost that case but has appealed so the legal fees will continue to grow.

Erwin read a letter from JP Charles Evans who had surgery almost two weeks ago after tests showed he had a fast growing tumor in his head.