By Phillip Williams
Upshur County Commissioners Court last week approved applying to rent a modular building to temporarily house at least some county courthouse offices while the courthouse undergoes a major lengthy renovation.
The court voted 5-0 to apply for credit from Satellite Shelters Inc. of Euless on a 30-month contract for $431,155. That price, to be paid in monthly installments, could prove lower or higher, depending on how long the restoration requires.
Plans call for vacating the Gilmer courthouse for that length of time for the estimated $12 million renovation, designed to restore the five-story brick building largely to its appearance when it originally opened in 1937. State, local and federal funds will be used.
Marion County Judge Leward J. LaFleur–who the court hired to oversee the project since his own county’s courthouse underwent such a makeover–told the Upshur court he didn’t know when vacating the local courthouse would begin. Its offices, however, won’t be functional for at least two days, he said.
LaFleur also told commissoners they didn’t have to seek bids on the modular structure because Satellite is a state-approved firm, and the only one which can provide the needed housing.
The judge explained that many companies who provide modular (portable) housing “don’t specialize in office space.” In addition, Precinct 2 Commissioner Dustin Nicholson said he contacted two potential suppliers other than Satellite, but they didn’t meet state specifications.
Satellite’s unit could house all offices affected by the temporary relocation except those “of maybe a couple (of) commissioners,” LaFleur said. Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Ashley then said he had heard from a woman who has office space for rent near the courthouse.
The court several months ago leased the former Gilmer ISD administration building from the school with an eye toward housing the county offices there during the renovation. Although the two-story building’s ground floor was later discovered to be in poor condition, LaFleur suggested using the second (top) floor alone to provide “elbow room.”
“We’re gonna have to use part of the top floor,” said County Judge Todd Tefteller, noting it is handicapped accessible. County Auditor Connie Williams warned, however, that most of the more than 100-year-old school building, which has housed the local high school, junior high school and intermediate school at various times, is “not habitable.”
Earlier in the Jan. 15 meeting, Tefteller had said the court could put the modular building on the school-owned acreage where the former administration building is located, and do so while using part or none of the old school.
In a related issue, LaFleur suggested the court notify organizations which traditionally use the courthouse lawn for special events (such as festivals and cooking contests) that the area will be unavailable at least two years during the renovation.
He also said he liked a proposal which Sheriff Larry Webb made during the meeting that the commissioners court hold its meetings in the county-owned Stanley Jenkins Training Center near the courthouse. The court currently meets on the courthouse’s third floor.
After the vote on the modular building, Nicholson said, “I’m happy we now know where we’re going” as “we have a plan.” LaFleur said he hoped officials could start implementing it within the “next 90 days or so.”