Gonzales County commissioners have authorized architect Tere O’Connell of Austin to begin working on a new master plan for the Gonzales County Courthouse with hopes of applying for preservation funding from the Texas Historical Commission.
At their regular meeting Monday, Nov. 13, commissioners discussed Round XIII of funding for the THC’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP), which provides grants to rehabilitate, restore and maintain historic Texas county courthouses.
In order to take part in the program, the county must first produce a new master plan for the Gonzales County Courthouse since the last one done for Gonzales County was done in 1993 — 30 years ago — when Volz & Associates helped the county perform repairs in two phases (from 1992-1996 and 1996-1998) on the tower, roof and exterior brick and terra cotta with partial funding from a federal ISTEA grant that preceded the Texas Courthouse Preservation Program by several years.
O’Connell, who started her own firm O’Connell Architecture LLC in Austin in 2015, was a part of the Volz team that worked on the Gonzales County Courthouse project.
The 1990s restoration of the courthouse, performed by Perry & Perry Builders Inc., did earn an "Award of Excellence in Historic Architecture" from the Texas Historical Commission in 1999.
“We wanted to work with Volz again because they did such a great job, but they are actually retired,” County Judge Pat Davis said. “(O’Connell) actually worked with Volz and she has been given access to the master plan from 1993, but it’s going to have to be redone and we don’t know how much that will cost yet. We have to have a new master plan in order to get the actual money for repairs.
“We would need a new master plan, but at least we would have the architectural design, the dimensions and all of the stuff that’s in there from 1993. We would have to come back and update and say, ‘okay, we have water in the basement, we have sandstone on the outside that needs to be replaced, we are possibly looking at putting central heat and air throughout the courthouse.’”
A ballpark estimate for the master plan could be between $150,000 to $200,000, depending on how much needs to be updated in the document, Davis said. The county could apply for up to $10 million in assistance from the THCPP for the necessary repairs to the courthouse. However, grant awardees must provide at least 15 percent of the total project cost as a match, with THCPP paying for no more than 85 percent of the total cost.
In addition to providing architectural work for the county, O’Connell would also provide grant management services. Because of the specialized nature of her work — and because there are so few firms in the state that are allowed by THC to perform these types of restorations — the county can hire her without having to go out for bids as a specialized vendor, Auditor Becky Weston said.
During the past 25 years, THCPP has had more than 140 participants and has awarded more than $360 million to counties to fund the full restorations of 78 courthouses and provided smaller grants to assist with emergency and planning projects.
In other action, the commissioners also voted to hire Gonzales First Shot Surveying LLC to perform an updated survey of the Courthouse grounds. The last time a survey was performed was prior to the construction of the Justice Center next door, Davis said.
“According to the THC, the whole block of the Courthouse must be surveyed and the old survey shows everything but the Justice Center,” Davis said. “They have to have a survey of the entire footprint of the Courthouse grounds.”
Davis also noted that while the Courthouse and Justice Center buildings belong to the county, the land actually belongs to the city of Gonzales, based on how it was deeded under the old Green DeWitt colony. However, agreements between the city and county and the historic nature of the old deeds should make it possible to get grant funding from THC, Davis added.