Reckless or Money Well Spent? Hall County Divided

Former Workforce Development Building

Hall County confronts a multi-million dollar dilemma. County leaders want to keep their hundred year old courthouse open, but can't agree on the best way to get it done.

"We're sitting on a powder keg or time bomb or whatever you want to call it," Hall County Board Chair Bob McFarland said.

Without major repairs, the Hall County Courthouse is at risk of a major failure. Pipes are corroded and they can't regulate the temperature in the hundred year old building.

McFarland said, "It's not just heating and air conditioning; we have space issues at the courthouse. So to move people out, fix heating and air conditioning, we really haven't accomplished much."

That's behind the push to move to the former Workforce Development building on Third Street in Grand Island, near the city library. It's got about the same amount of space, and could be used while the courthouse is closed.

McFarland said, "That's our relief valve having that building over there. We can get people out of the courthouse, into that building, work faster in the courthouse, work cheaper in the courthouse."

But at $600,000, the county's bid is higher than the owner had the building appraised for, although the county didn't know that.

The owner is the city of Grand Island. Some feel the county is moving too fast without a plan.

That includes County Supervisor Steve Schuppan. He said, "We're going to spend well over $1 million on this building getting it ready. I think that's reckless on our part."

Those opposed to the project say it's something the historically unpopular Congress would do.

"Where we buy it to see how much money we put in it," Dan Purdy said.

Scott Arnold also opposed the building purchase, saying, "We're going to have a white elephant if we do this."

On a split vote, 4 to 3, supervisors decided to go forward with the building as a stopgap while drawing up plans for the courthouse.

McFarland said, "None of them are going to be inexpensive, none are going to be easy. It's going to be a long, drawn out process. We've worked with the courts, they've told us they'll work with us."

They've got six options for the courthouse. Possibilities include an addition. Supervisors on the winning side say they can't get that done and keep the building open, so argue a temporary courthouse is the way to go.

"We need to get it resolved, I think this is the most economical way to do it," McFarland said.

Supervisors will meet with judges on Friday to outline the plans for the courthouse repair.

But now have to also draw up plans on how to turn an empty office building into a temporary courthouse.