Collin Courthouse admirer wants a stay of demolition

Collin Courthouse admirer wants a stay of demolition

Dallas Morning News, The (TX) – December 6, 2009

Author: ED HOUSEWRIGHT

 

Curtis Rath loves a building most others seem to hate.

The longtime McKinney resident is mounting a last-minute campaign to save the abandoned Collin County Courthouse from destruction.

“I’m the ugly guy trying to defend the ugly courthouse,” Rath joked.

McKinney bought the boxy, tan-brick building for $8 million three years ago when the county announced plans for a new courthouse. Officials wanted to refurbish the six-story structure into a spacious city hall.

But the current City Council calls the 1970s-era building unsalvageable. Consultants say renovation could cost as much as $36 million, much more than the cost of a new building.

Rath calls the figure absurd.

“I’m not an expert in the industry,” said Rath, 54, business development director for a food company. “I have no expertise, and I don’t pretend to. But I study the information and try to look at it from a balanced perspective.

“I’ve always had the gut feel that we’ve got a perfectly good building.”

He believes council members have been enticed by the vision of a shimmering new city hall. Instead, they should question the validity of the sky-high estimates to renovate the dowdy courthouse, said Rath, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last spring.

“It’s always easier to begin with a blank slate and create something new, as opposed to having something and working around all the issues,” he said.

Asking for debate

Rath said he’s not using the courthouse issue as a springboard for another council campaign. He simply wants taxpayers to become engaged in the debate, he said.

“I’ve asked for a public discussion of the facts,” Rath said. “It’s our money.”

The council could vote as early as next month to demolish the courthouse.

“I think we’ve all agreed it doesn’t work as a city hall,” said council member Don Day.

Day has renovated almost two dozen buildings on McKinney’s downtown square since 1996, and he thinks the courthouse renovation estimates are in the ballpark.

But he doesn’t begrudge Rath’s questions.

“Sometimes, I think too much is done without questions,” Day said. “But having looked at it very carefully, I’m pretty confident we’re making the right decision.”

Support from others

Rath acknowledges he’s the most vocal advocate for saving the courthouse. But he said others have privately encouraged his effort.

He has a periodic column on mckinneynews.net, and he’s written about the courthouse three times. Readers have responded with support, Rath said.

“I’ve talked to architects and experts in construction, and they say the [renovation] estimates are overblown,” he said. “I can’t tell you that one person has told me, ‘Curtis, you’re wrong.’ ”

The disco-era courthouse doesn’t engender the affection of its predecessor, built in 1874. After sitting vacant on the square for 30 years, it was renovated into a performing arts center that opened in 2006.

Still, the Texas Historical Commission has come to the defense of the newer courthouse, completed in 1979. Twice, it has urged local officials to save it.

The building is an example of brutalism, an architectural style popular in the ’70s that is gaining admiration, the commission says.

In addition, the courthouse is “constructed of extremely durable materials, and demolition is opposed from a sustainability perspective,” said commission spokeswoman Debbi Head.

Will the City Council listen to the Texas Historical Commission and Curtis Rath?

He isn’t sure.

“I’m clearly fighting an uphill battle.”

 

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