Progress Report: Historic Dade County Courthouse Renovation

Lights come on as evening, and a dreary winter rain, fall on the historic Dade courthouse on Thursday.

Editor's note: Local historian Donna Street, who is spearheading renovation efforts at the historic Dade County courthouse, compiled this "state of the courthouse" progress report and presented a synopsis of it at the Dade County Commission's Feb. 1 meeting.

February 1, 2018

In 2001, a firm was hired to assess the condition of the Historic Dade County Courthouse. They found the building in remarkably good condition for a building built in 1926. The “laundry list” of repairs and upgrades was extensive and at the end of the document they estimated that the total cost could be as much as $1,125,883.

Local citizens have affirmed in three separate SPLOST tax elections that they are willing to go forth with improving and repurposing the building. A copy of that preservation plan can be obtained at the County Commission office.

The current project was begun without the benefit of a citizen’s ad hoc committee in 2015. A major project completed in that time was the installation of an elevator on the southeast corner of the building with a handicapped entrance. The installation follows almost verbatim the suggestion made in the 2001 renovation plan. Until the elevator was installed and signed off on by the fire marshal no work of any kind could move forward. The fire marshal signed off on handicapped accessibility in late 2016.

In March of 2016 the County Commission appointed a committee of citizens to plan, advise and fundraise. Members of the committee represent each area of the County. The Historic Courthouse Preservation Committee includes Rex Blevins, Audrey Clark, Sarah Moore, Commissioner Ted Rumley and Donna M. Street with Don Townsend serving as the Secretary. The committee meets the second Tuesday of each month at 2 p.m.

Using the items listed in the Renovation plan, a chart was created which included demolition, site work, foundation, interior construction, interior finishes, exterior, electrical and plumbing. The chart includes 50 items and as of Dec. 31 seventeen items have been completed with others still in progress.

In July, 2016, a capital campaign to raise funds was begun.The Committee asked for a guarantee of at least $50,000 per year (2016-2018) from the commission and that was agreed upon. The window replacement project was the first. The public made generous donations for most of the windows. Commemorative plaques will be placed by the windows upon completion of the building. There are several windows which still can be purchased in memory or honor of someone. The windows bid which was accepted was for $65,590.00. The window project was completed fall 2017. Donations by the public to date are $43,825. There were funds of $9,250 which were not donated for windows and were from corporate, nonprofit or personal gifts. The Dade County Historical Society, Gill Corporation, Matt Mayfield Insurance, Top of Georgia Economic Development and Citizens Bank and Trust among others made these substantial donations. Several other corporate donations are expected and will be solicited during the next phase of fund raising.

Georgia Power removed the electrical pole and bored under Highway 11 and placed new wiring under the highway. While installing conduit to city buildings, the city of Trenton placed conduit under the streets and Highway 11 to make electrical, plumbing and technological access to the courthouse underground. The remaining telephone pole on the square is in the works to be moved by the owner, Trenton Telephone Company, possibly as part of the City’s City Scape project.

Several grants have been written with limited success. The focus has shifted from the county government applying for grants to a 501C-3 group requesting grants. The Dade County Historical Society will fill that role after a current audit is completed. A grant from the Department of Community Affairs by the County has been accepted and is pending. Expectation is high for grants from agencies later in the project.

Demolition continues through cooperation of the Dade County Sheriff’s Department. Officer Buddy Waters supervised jail trusties who have gutted the building to the subfloor and to the studs. Officer Waters is away for training and an accurate number of hours work done by trusties is not available. Many hundreds of hours of work have been completed by the trusties at no additional cost to the taxpayers. The Preservation Committee thanks Sheriff Ray Cross for making this project a priority for trusties and for allowing Officer Waters to manage this project.

(Photo: Donna Street presents her update at

Thursday's commission meeting.)

A request for proposal (RFP) was posted by the county in July 2017 for the total remaining work. Only one bidder applied. Because there were not three bids, the committee decided to rethink our bidding process and rebid the project after a new plan is formulated.

Total monies spent from 2015 through 2017 are as follows:

2015 $65,613.56

2016 $83,024.83

2017 $17,967.49

Total $166,605.88 (as of December 31, 2017)

Significant funding, both public and private, is still needed to complete the project. A second phase of fundraising for public portion will begin by June.

Many have questioned the purpose of the courthouse after the completion of the renovation. The key landmark in Dade County will become the center of tourism, the arts and entertainment, business and economic development upon completion.

The Dade Chamber of Commerce, along with the Regional Visitors Information Center (RVIC) will relocate to the facility. Plans are that the Industrial Development Authority and the Downtown Development Authority will also be housed there. The Dade County Historical Society will have an office and possible gift shop in the courthouse. Other groups or small businesses might fit the footprint of the building appropriate for their needs.

The upper story of the courthouse will be available for rental for weddings, family reunions, anniversaries and birthday celebrations. It is hoped that the community will enjoy plays, concerts, dances and historical presentations in the Courtroom as groups arise to host such events.

Individual and businesses interested in making a donation toward this effort, please make checks payable to the Dade County Historical Society. All donations are tax deductible. Mail donations to: Russell Brown, Treasurer, Dade County Historical Society, 67 Mountain View Road, Trenton, GA 30752. Checks may also be delivered to the Dade County Commission office.

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