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Collin County citizens object to courthouse transfer

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX – [Ambient sound of footsteps. A woman says: Right here we have what's the recorded Texas historic landmarker. Street noise in background.] Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Martha Bundy is nostalgic when she talks about the old Collin County Courthouse. She remembers coming here frequently on business before the building was closed more than 20 years ago. Aside from the occasional film shoot, the courthouse has hardly been used since. But it remains the centerpiece of the downtown square in McKinney. And in Martha Bundy's eyes, it is also the symbolic core of the broader community.

Martha Bundy, Preservationist: The land was donated by William and Margaret Davis. In the deed they stated it was to be for the benefit, the use, and the behoof of the residents of the county, and I believe that that should be honored.

Sprague: So Bundy objects to Collin County's plans to sell the courthouse to the City of McKinney for one dollar. She collected more than 1,000 signatures asking county commissioners to restore the building and use it for county offices.

Bundy: This courthouse belongs to all the citizens of Collin County. If the courthouse is transferred to the City of McKinney, then what will the other residents of the county get out of that?

Don Dozier, Mayor, City of McKinney: We know it will be used for public offices. Also, we're considering taking the old courtroom and making it convertible so the performing arts can use that as a venue.

Sprague: McKinney Mayor Don Dozier says all groups, residents and businesses, regardless of where they're located in the county, will have equal access to the courthouse. They'll be charged the same rate to rent the building for special events, such as conferences or performances. And the county plans to transfer one Justice of the Peace night court to the restored building as well.

Ron Harris, Collin County Judge: It will always be the Old County Courthouse, Collin County Courthouse.

Sprague: Ron Harris is the Collin County Judge.

Harris: You've got markers outside of it, plaques on the doors. What I've always wanted it to be was in use. And I think the City of McKinney has the right things to put it in use.

Sprague: Those "things" include funds from a 1/2-cent city sales tax, $500,000 dollars in municipal bond money, and $1 million from bonds county residents approved last year.

Harris: And the million dollars again was portrayed to the voters as being a partnership to go to the City of McKinney to renovate the courthouse.

Sprague: However, the actual ballot did not mention transferring ownership of the courthouse to the city. And while some officials say there is plenty of money from the city's sales tax to pay for the remainder of the $6 million dollar renovation cost, those charged with managing the fund are hesitant to commit all available money. John Piatt is the chairman of the McKinney Community Development Corporation.

John Piatt, Chairman, McKinney Community Development Corporation: It would be somewhat irresponsible of us to just say, we've got the money, let's go do it. We look for in-kind donations that are going to help with the remodeling of the courthouse. We'll also be looking to have some fundraising campaigns coming up very soon.

Sprague: That makes some preservationists worry the city is trying to pass the financial buck for restoring the courthouse. But there are many other lovers of history who are pleased just to see the building cleaned up and put back in use, no matter who pays for it. The transfer of ownership is expected to happen later this year, with construction beginning in the spring. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.