Eye on KELOLAND: Lincoln County officials mull verdict on courthouse

Eye on KELOLAND

CANTON, S.D. (KELO) — People in Lincoln County will decide the future of their historic courthouse this fall. They’ll be voting on whether to restore the 130-year-old building in Canton, as part of a $50 million bond issue that would also include construction of a county jail. Rendering a verdict on the courthouse could hinge upon its age and a growing population within the county.

The Lincoln County Courthouse is a historical hub of Canton.

“You’ve got this old building that’s part of the history of the county. It’s historical; people love that,” Lincoln County Commissioner Jim Schmidt said.

The building still displays the structural splendor from the early days of South Dakota frontier justice. But look a little closer, in some of the darkened corners, and you’ll find signs of time catching up with the courthouse.

“I don’t think it’s an ideal facility at all,” Schmidt said.

Twelve years ago, the building was renovated when the county added a new courthouse next-door.

“Anytime you attach a brand-new building to an old building, you’ve got to deal with old building problems, everywhere,” Lincoln County Courthouse Building Superintendent John Rombough said.

Problems like bats that migrate from the old courthouse into the new one.

“I’ve been here for two-and-a-half years; I’ve removed a total of 17 bats from this facility,” Rombough said.

Bat droppings are raising concerns about mold.

“No one wants to work in an environment where you have bats or bat droppings, or any of that kind of stuff,” Schmidt said.

We’re in a part of the courthouse where few people have been before. This is the attic right above the main courthouse and rain can often cause roof rot up here, weakening the timbers with water and causing the wood to snap like a toothpick.

“I don’t think any building is completely water tight, but with it being an older building, a very older building, that the water penetration has gotten to some of the older timbers,” Rombough said.

That water eventually works its way into the courtroom as a result of efforts through the years to divert the flow.

“It’s funny because you can see it’s been a problem for a lot of years because they actually have channels hooked-up in the attic to the chimney to guide the water to a bucket,” Rombough said.

Air-flow issues have also been a concern with the courthouse.

“In that time, they made some judgment calls that said, you know, I think we can get by with opening windows to help offset the heat, well, that’s really not a modern way to effectively cool a courthouse in 2020,” Rombough said.

Engineers are studying what it will take to fix problems with the courthouse. But County Commissioner Jim Schmidt says even if voters decide to go ahead with any upgrades, it won’t address an overriding need for a bigger facility.

“Our dilemma is this: even if we did renovate the courthouse and we made it a very usable facility that still doesn’t give us enough room for growth because in another year, or year and a half, we’re going to need another major courtroom,” Schmidt said.

Lincoln County’s growing population is leading to a rising criminal caseload which, in turn, creates space problems in the courthouse. So it will be up to voters to decide whether to preserve the county’s historical past, while planning for its future.

“What my goal is is to make it a more comfortable, more usable space for the people that work here and the public,” Rombough said.

Air quality test results came in last week showing high levels of mold in the courthouse’s attic. It also showed high humidity levels throughout the building due to the ventilation issues.

This week, the Lincoln County Commission is expected to vote on whether to hire an engineering firm to conduct a structural analysis of the courthouse.

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