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Piece of Mind: Fannin County Grapples With Restoring Its Historic Courthouse

Judge Randy Moore expressed optimism that the exterior of the courthouse will be completed “a year from now.”
John Kanelis
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Judge Randy Moore expressed optimism that the exterior of the courthouse will be completed “a year from now.” ";s:

Fannin County Judge Randy Moore is what one might call a pragmatic idealist.

He yearns for virtual perfection in the county’s effort to restore its historic courthouse, but Moore is acutely aware of the financial barriers that remain before the county can cross the finish line.

The Fannin County Courthouse in the heart of downtown Bonham has been gutted. The exterior has been stripped. Work crews scurry around the site. Hard hats are part of the uniform of the day.

And yet Randy Moore sees a light shining at the end of it all.

“The inside is torn out. The walls are gone. Some flooring remains, but a lot of it is gone, too,” Moore said.

What is the aim? “We’re trying to restore it to how it looked in 1888 when it was built and then opened,” Moore said.

The county obtained a Texas Historical Commission preservation grant totaling $6 million, he said. The county has budgeted $16 million of its own money for work on the courthouse, Moore added, with about $5.7 million spent from the preservation grant awarded by the Historical Commission. The historical commission, he said, will award the county “the rest of it.”

Moore, who won the Republican Party nomination to be county judge in the spring of 2018, was effectively elected to the post that fall and took office in January of this year. He has had his hands full as he settled into his new job.

As the crews work to restore the courthouse, the county has spread its government functions throughout Bonham.

The Commissioners Court meets at Bonham City Hall, which also houses the probate clerks, Moore said. The County Court at law and the county clerk meet at the Family Life Center, the District Court meets in the South Annex, the district attorney works out of the old Cable Building; the auditor, district clerk and the treasurer all are housed in the old U.S. Department of Agriculture Building, said Moore.

“Everybody is coping, we’re making do,” Moore said. “And I want to commend our employees for putting up with this,” he added.

County Clerk Tammy Biggar, whose office is at the Cable Building, credited her deputy clerks for being “pretty resourceful” during this transition. “We’ll live with it,” she said of the temporary office location. Biggar noted that when her office first moved into the Cable Building, residents would come in and exclaim, “We found you!”

“The footprint I asked for has been smaller than I would have liked,” Biggar said of her temporary site, “but we have been blessed to have CERT (Citizen Emergency Response Team) employees helping us.” She added that “It’s been all hands on deck around here.”

Biggar said her staff as well is scattered around. In addition to the probate clerks housed at City Hall, the criminal court staff is working in an office set up at First United Methodist Church.

Commissioners Court will meet eventually in a renovated courthouse, which will include a balcony that had been built into the structure in the late 19th century. Court at law also will meet in the same room, Judge Moore said.

Is there a timetable for completion? Moore expressed optimism that the exterior of the courthouse will be completed “a year from now.” Moore hopes that the interior can be done soon afterward, depending on the “alternative funding sources” the county can find to help it finish the work. Moore is reluctant to state which alternative sources he is seeking but did say it will cost “another $7 million to $8 million to get the interior done.” He called the interior end date “pure speculation, but we could make it happen in about a year if we had the money.”

The project was first conceived about six years ago, Moore said. The cost has “escalated” over time, he said. Moore added that work had “paused” earlier this year to allow the contractor to “get organized. It took about six months.”

Moore is adamant that the courthouse will get finished and that Fannin County will have a fully functional courthouse in the renovated and restored 1888 structure. I reminded him of another courthouse restoration project that fell short of achieving a similar goal. Randall County, in the Texas Panhandle, secured a Historical Commission Preservation grant some years ago to renovate its historic courthouse in Canyon. The county finished the exterior of the 1909 building, but the interior has been empty, as the county relocated its entire government operation to other sites throughout the city.

“That won’t happen here,” Moore said. “The county must have a functional courthouse. And we will.”

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, www.highplainsblogger.com. Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.

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