Utah County commissioners say that if past commissioners had considered the possibility of using the old courthouse for something other than a court, the building's future would not be in their hands today.
And as a result of that failure to consider other possible uses for the building, the county now has an extra building.In 1986, county commissioners held a series of public hearings and decided to bond for more than $13 million for construction of the new Utah County Administration Building. The new building was in conjunction with a state project to build the $16 million State Regional Office Complex east of the old courthouse between Center Street and 100 East.
Clyde Naylor, county engineer, said that at the time many of the county's offices were located in different downtown Provo buildings, with the 4th District Court occupying much of the old courthouse and the county the rest. The decision to build the new administration building came about because the county wanted to centralize all its offices in one building and the state wanted to house both the 4th District Court and Provo's 4th Circuit Court in one building.
During public hearings on the new building, the county said that upon completion of the building, $1.8 million of the bond would go toward remodeling the old courthouse to house both the district and circuit courts. However, after the county moved into the new administration building, the county and the state discovered that it would cost about $5 million to bring the old courthouse up to court security standards.
For that reason, and because Commissioner Sid Sandberg and past Commissioner Brent Morris had expressed concern about preserving the building's beauty and accessibility, the state decided to locate the courts in a new building.
"To make it meet security standards, you would have destroyed the historical appearance of the building," Sandberg said.
Thus, Provo City built the new 4th District Judicial Center, and now the old courthouse is vacant - with today's commissioners left to decide its fate.
Commissioner Malcolm Beck said that the possibility of not using the old courthouse for a court building should have been discussed during the public hearings on the new administration building. He said the county should have done more research on the feasibility of housing both courts in the old courthouse.
"If (the old courthouse) was not going to be used for the courts, then why did we build this building?" Beck said, referring to the new administration building. "That possibility should have been an issue right up front."
Commissioners say that the old courthouse, without the courts, is big enough to house all county offices. Beck said the state should have built its regional building and the county should have built a new court building instead of a new administration building, with county offices being in the old courthouse.
"But that's easy for us to say now because we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight," Commissioner Gary Herbert said.
So now commissioners say they are stuck with an extra building and they have to make sure that both buildings, the old courthouse and the new administration building, are used in the public's best interest. And even though the county has a little extra space, the time will come when both buildings are needed.
Commissioners say once the old courthouse is remodeled as a cultural and government center, county residents will appreciate having most government agencies in one centralized location.
"As the county grows, we will have room in the future that we will be able to move into," Herbert said. "Two years from now we'll look back and say, `This is a nice government facility.' "