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Old courthouse now surplus

Crumbling foundation


by: HOLLY M. GILL - Jeff Rasmussen, county administrator, shows how easily the foundation of the exterior of the old courthouse crumbles.Jefferson County's oldest courthouse might not make it to the century mark.

The County Commission has declared the 1917 courthouse — which first served as the Madras City Hall and then the county courthouse — surplus property, clearing the way for the county to dispose of it by either selling it or tearing it down.

The brick building has a deceptively sturdy appearance. "I don't think people know how bad a shape it's in," said Commissioner John Hatfield before the commission unanimously voted Sept. 11 to surplus the building. "It needs to be re-emphasized."

Built of unreinforced brick, the building's exterior has several cracks, but the most serious problem is the crumbling concrete in the foundation.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Kathie Rohde, county finance director, shows the deterioration of the basement walls.
"We tried to core sample that years ago, and couldn't get a sample," said Dana Lundy, director of the County Buildings and Grounds Department. "It just crumbled."

The courthouse is also located in a floodway, which would make it difficult to rebuild.

Until recent years, the old courthouse housed the Oregon State University Extension Service on the main floor, and the Jefferson County Historical Society's museum on the top floor. The OSU Extension Service is now located in the Madras Central Oregon Community College campus, while the museum's 6,000 or so items have been moved to the old Westside school.

When the museum was still located in the old courthouse, volunteers were concerned about the safety of the building.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - The 1917 building, built as a city hall, but later used as a courthouse, is now listed as 'surplus,' which means the county can sell or demolish the deteriorating building."We finally became very uneasy about being in that building," said Jerry Ramsey, president of the Historical Society, recalling an incident that alarmed the building's occupants.

"One day, a gentleman came in and used the restroom," said Ramsey, adding that they never saw the man leave, but assumed that he had.

Later, he said, "They heard a faint 'Help, I can't get out.'" Apparently, there had been a slight shift in the building, and the restroom door wouldn't open.

Although Madras has "a significant lack of historic buildings," Ramsey, who has always been a champion of historic preservation, continued, "I can't justify trying to restore the old courthouse."

Elaine Henderson, former county clerk and Historical Society member, echoed Ramsey's sentiments.

"I volunteered in the museum, and when the air-conditioning came on, the whole building shook," she said.

"It's deteriorating more and more," Henderson added. "You can see daylight through the brick."



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