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County marks courthouses first century
With celebrations in works, more renovations are needed
new deh county commission courthouse pic web
There will be tours and a celebration of the Barton County Courthouses 100th anniversary Friday afternoon. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Tuesday morning:

• Approved a resolution marking the Barton County Courthouse Centennial. Construction of the courthouse, a “Modern (Classical) Eclecticism” building, began in November of 1917, with the cornerstone laid on March 28, 1918, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said. 

There will be tours of the courthouse from noon to 5 p.m. Friday with a reception at 4 p.m.  

• Heard an update on Sexual Assault Awareness Month from Domestic and Sexual Violence Program Director Becky Davis of the Family Crisis Center. In April, the commission adopted a proclamation for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Under that proclamation, all citizens were urged to become familiar with community resources and to be better prepared to assist survivors of sexual assault. The center provides such services under its victim advocacy and services program. 

• Approved the transfer of a 2008 Dodge Charger from the Sheriff’s Office fleet to the Health Department fleet. Health Director Shelly Schneider said the Health Department will pay $4,500 for the vehicle.  

After the BCSO purchased the police dog and vehicle from the Great Bend Police Department, it no longer needed this car, which was used by the undersheriff and detectives. It does not have the “police package,” Sheriff Brian Bellendir said.

• Approved the sale of an asphalt zipper from the Road and Bridge Department. It is being purchased back by the manufacturer at a price of $25,000. With the department’s purchase of more efficient equipment to mill and grind asphalt, the 2006 zipper is no longer needed.

 While county officials are proud of the stately, century-old Barton County Courthouse and its condition, they also want the public to know the grand structure is showing its age.

County commissioners Tuesday morning approved a proclamation marking the building’s centennial. There will be tours offered from noon to 5 p.m. Friday with a reception at 4 p.m. and musical entertainment provided by Melanie Ryan.

The tours will last 15-20 minutes each, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said. “People will see parts of it that aren’t normally seen.”

The celebration is in conjunction with the City of Great Bend’s June Jaunt.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Board of County Commissioners of Barton County, Kansas, that upon the centennial commemoration of the Barton County Courthouse, all citizens are asked to join in celebrating the 1OQth year of use of the Barton County Courthouse; and further, that the citizens and local elected officials, past and present, are acknowledged for their dedication to the preservation and care of this local monument,” proclamation reads. “Under the careful guardianship of Barton County officials over the years, the building will continue to be used for years to come.”

The problems 

But, while getting a glimpse into the courthouse’s historic past, Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said visitors should also notice necessary renovations. “It needs some serious attention. It is important for people to see what needs to be done.”

The building is in great shape due to continual maintenance but more has been required of it over the years, Schartz said. “It may look the same on the outside, but the people who built it probably wouldn’t recognize it today.”

The four corners of the courthouse have begun to separate from the center of the building, causing cracks to form and plaster to fall on the fourth floor. Repairs done in the past, including turnbuckles installed to pull the corners together, are proving to be unsuccessful.

There are also continuing problems with the aging air conditioning.

A window in the commission chambers is cracked due to settling. In addition, there have been pipes burst and other problems.

Realizing the need to stabilize the historic building, the County Commission last December selected WDM Architects of Wichita to conduct a structural analysis of the building at a cost of $24,300. 

The commission rejected a costlier $49,800 option that would have had WDM looking into the plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning.

In February, Professional Engineering Consultants of Wichita took soil core samples at the direction of WDM.

Hathcock said the county has received the study results from the architectural firm and officials are reviewing them. However, no action has been taken.

Some history

Construction of the “Modern (Classical) Eclecticism” building started in November of 1917 and it was expected to be done by November of 1918. The start was delayed at first because the previous courthouse built on the same site had not been razed on time.

By Dec. 18, 1918, the courthouse was finished. The first trial, a divorce case, had taken place the day before.

The original building had an outside staircase leading up to what was considered the first floor. That was removed in 1952.

Over the years, there have been some office moves and some remodeling. The commission now meets on what was called the ground floor, and the Sheriff’s Office has moved across the street.

But, by in large, the structure has remained mostly as it was in 1918.

According to the proclamation, in 1872, Barton County met the minimum population requirement of 600 to be a county. At that time, Gov. James M. Harvey appointed special county commissioners and named Great Bend as the temporary county seat.

On July 1 of that same year, county officials were first elected and Great Bend received 144 votes, enough to be named the permanent county seat. At a special election later that year, the voters approved issuing $25,000 in county bonds to erect a courthouse and county jail. 

This was finished in 1874. That brick and native stone building was used for 43 years, being torn down in 1917.

Then, upon petition of county residents, the commissioners called for the construction of a new courthouse. The Hutchinson architectural firm of W.E. Hulse & Company designed the building with Manhattan Construction Company of Muskogee, Okla., responsible for construction.

The new courthouse is approximately 125 by 101 feet in size, 57 feet high, built of reinforced concrete, brick, steel and stone, for a cost of (approximately) a quarter million dollars.