The original Jackson County Courthouse may become the Jacksonville City Hall. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell

Jacksonville plans to move city hall to historic courthouse

JACKSONVILLE — City Hall will move to the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse, as long as costs to renovate the structure don't go much over $1 million.

The City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with the relocation unless constrained by financial factors. Seismic engineering studies done on the building found that reinforcement costs should be about $300,000, somewhat less than previous estimates.

A cost limit was not included in the motion, which was made by Councilor David Jesser. Councilor Jocie Wall voted against the measure.

The council also approved an award of $35,000 in contracts for floor layout, electrical and mechanical design work, and issuing a request for proposals to finance renovation through the city's urban renewal district.

Jesser pushed the council to approve the motion to move forward with the full project, rather than approving payments for the smaller jobs before it was clear there was council support for the overall plan.

"I think that the citizens of Jacksonville have the right to see that the horse is in front of the cart, rather than the cart in front of the horse," Jesser said.

"As we move forward, if costs become prohibitive, we would have to reassess," Jesser said. "It seems to make a statement about the importance of bringing back the historical courthouse as a centerpiece in Jacksonville."

Most city offices are located in the Miller House on Main Street, a site that was viewed as a temporary headquarters when it was slected two decades ago. Jackson County gave the city the courthouse in 2012. It had served as home of the Southern Oregon Historical Society and a museum for decades before that.

Quality construction work in the 19th century is credited with keeping the seismic reinforcement affordable.

"They really spent the time and the money when they put it together. They did a heck of a job," said Scott Pingle, president of KAS Associates, which is coordinating the design work. Pingle also works on a contract basis as the city's engineer.

The building's brick walls are 30 inches thick at the base and 18 inches thick at the top of the second story, Pingle said. Twenty samples showed that the mortar holding the bricks together is in good shape. Use of poor mortar in historic buildings often means that walls can't be counted on as structural components in remodeling projects.

Precision Structural Engineers, Inc. found that wood framework was placed into the walls while the mortar was still wet, and in most cases the wood is still firmly attached. The Klamath Falls firm found the building could be brought into compliance with structural codes.

Seismic reinforcement would involve using bolts, brackets and steel angle iron to attach woodwork to the masonry walls, Pingle said.

"We want to make sure everything is done right, as right as we possibly can. We want to bring it back to life," said City Administrator Jeff Alvis.

A floor plan will determine how much of the space on the downstairs level will be needed for city offices. The rest of the downstairs space might be rented out to tenants.

Consultant PARC Resources estimated in a July 2013 report that nearly $1 million in upgrades would be needed to make the courthouse usable. A minimum of $332,000 was estimated for seismic work. The report also recommended that the city consider using the second floor as an events space.

Other refurbishing estimates in the report included $180,000 for an elevator, $98,000 for plumbing and new bathrooms, $95,000 for new electrical service and $88,000 for HVAC systems.

Alvis expects the council to deliberate on potential uses of the second floor in coming weeks, but said some restoration work of that area will be incorporated into the plans. Grants might be sought later to furnish the space for events if that direction is chosen, he said.

The city Planning Department, which relocated from the Miller House to an annex behind the courthouse earlier this year, will probably remain there, said Alvis.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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