The Santa Rosa County Commission continues to move forward with plans for a new judicial center, with four proposed sites still under consideration. And, as that process moves forward, the Main Street Milton organization is sharing with the public a comprehensive proposal for what it calls "adaptive re-use" of the Historic Santa Rosa County Courthouse after current judicial operations move out.
Main Street Milton has been working on the preservation and renovation plan for a number of years. Ryan Arvay, Program Manager for Main Street Milton, says they feel the time is right to reveal their plans, as county officials get closer to site location and construction of a new judicial complex.
“It would be perfect for the county to also simultaneously plan for the re-use of the historic courthouse, so that when they do make the transition and vacate the current facility downtown, that we can have a prompt and smooth transition to a new use and it doesn’t end up sitting there empty for several more years while they begin to plan what to do with it.”
Main Street Milton’s 14-page plan calls for transforming the historic courthouse into a state-of-the-art public library and community center. “A library will appeal to the broadest segment of the population and have the most consistent use throughout the year,” Arvay said. He says such a facility would take the services offered at the Milton branch of the Santa Rosa Library System and dramatically expand them. And, addressing criticism that libraries are obsolete, Arvay disagrees noting that such facilities simply are being reinvented. Their plan is for a facility that will possibly include a media center, resource center, high-speed internet, art galleries and a café.
While, the interior of the building would be gutted and transformed into library space, the exterior of the building would be restored to its original appearance when constructed in 1927. That would require removal of the existing wings on the building that were added in the 1960's and the reconstruction of a third and fourth floor.
Once completed, the renovated building will sit on a smaller footprint, clearing up outdoor space behind the courthouse for creation of a village green. The City of Milton has included the outdoor project into its new City of Milton Blackwater Riverfront Master Plan.
With their courthouse proposal, Main Street Milton is trying to create an attractive, aesthetically pleasing, historic and unique structure that will bring more foot traffic to the downtown area. “We feel that this will be a huge economic driver for the county, because what we need downtown is critical mass. We need people. We need businesses. And, we feel like the library will bring the people and spur additional investment, Arvay said.
The restoration and rehabilitation of the historic Santa Rosa County Courthouse is expected to be a multi-million dollar project, although the exact cost is unknown. Proposed funding options could include state preservation grants, CRA revenue, a bond issue to be determined by ballot, and RESTORE Act money. One purpose of the fund is to help counties recover from the oil spill and promote tourism.
Click here to read the entire proposal.
Sandra Averhart is News Director for WUWF Public Media. Sandra@wuwf.org