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Our View: Using the past to shape our future

The Union Editorial Board

Some buildings are more than the bricks and mortar that make them.

They become icons, symbols of their city or state. Some cast a shadow across an entire country, representing an ideal — freedom, maybe, or the people who inhabit that land.

Our Nevada County Courthouse fits into a small part of that shadow. It’s not as well known as the state Capitol, or larger than life like the Statue of Liberty. But it’s special to those of us who live here, and in its way is a symbol for our county.

We’d like it to stay where it is, in some form, at least.

State officials have been looking at the courthouse for over a decade. It’s been called “unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient” by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts.

The Project Advisory Group — one of a handful of groups looking at the courthouse — is expected in May to review a recommendation for the building. There’s plenty of locals on the group, and they know what this structure means to the community. That recommendation will go to the Judicial Council of California, which has the final call.

There are three options: Keep it where it is and refurbish; tear it down and rebuild; or relocate and build elsewhere.

Many people want the first option: Keep the courthouse where it is and spend the necessary funds to meet existing specifications, especially the Americans with Disability Act.

We don’t know yet if that’s feasible. What shouldn’t be up to debate, however, is that an Art Moderne structure should sit in that spot, remain a symbol of our past, and light a way toward our future.

There are plenty of pie in the sky ideas for what should replace the courthouse, if it must go: a law school, a small college, apartments, a museum, or perhaps the relocation off the Searls Historical Library. Even a parking lot has been floated.

We might have to cope with the reality of a relocated courthouse, but we shouldn’t turn this cherished space into a parking spot.

Mayor Duane Strawser, detailing the history of this project, noted that in 2009 the community presented broad opposition to the suggestion the courthouse be demolished and a new one built.

Regardless of how much power this community currently has on this issue, it should again mobilize around the courthouse. Maybe it will be torn down and relocated, or be rehabilitated and remain a symbol in its current spot. Whatever happens, we must be a part of the decision-making process.

Representatives from Nevada City and Grass Valley, as well as the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices, may sit on the Project Advisory Group, but they don’t hold the sway of regular citizens invested in their community. The Judicial Council of California may have the final word on the matter, but we can make a point it hears our words, and knows our feelings.

Every historic building can’t be saved. The money just isn’t there. That means we must be diligent in determining which parts are saved, and help shape the direction of our preservation.

Millions of dollars have been spent on the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices, which are a stone’s throw from the courthouse. Attorneys have their offices nearby, as well as their staff. Add in courthouse staff, and you have a large contingent of people every workday in the area shopping and eating at local businesses.

This might not be enough to sway the decision makers. Some things are out of our hands.

But they should consider this — that the courthouse is more than concrete and asphalt. It’s more than the ancillary buildings around it, more than the laws and regulations that require proper parking and access and safety.

To be sure, we want those things, just as we want people in our downtown, breathing life into our city.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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