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Demolition of historic courthouse

ALEXANDRIA, S.D. -- The clock is ticking for the 104-year-old Hanson County Courthouse.

Sheriff Mark Kessler and Clerk of Courts Ramona Schroeder will move out Thursday, and remaining county departments will head to temporary offices in downtown Alexandria next week.

Hanson County Commission Chairman Carl Nordwald said Tuesday that county highway crews will begin demolishing the building later this year.

"We hate that we have to do it," said Nordwald, "but it doesn't seem practical to save it. We also regret that we'll have to spend taxpayer money to build a new facility. Times are tight for all counties and cities."

Faced with a nearly $300,000 engineering estimate to stabilize the structure, believed to have been built in 1904, Hanson commissioners decided the county's money would be better spent on a new building. The expensive repairs would have gained only five additional years of occupancy, said Nordwald.

"We just felt it was not cost-effective to patch up the old building," he said.

Schroeder said that county employees developed a connection to the old courthouse building over the years.

"I don't think there's anybody here that wants to leave it," she said. "We'd just as soon keep it if we could, but we can't, so we have to go on."

Demolition will be a county do-it-yourself project. Highway Superintendent Clint Degen said a crew will probably begin tearing down the old building late this year.

"It probably won't be until after November," he said. "It will be a good winter project, but it depends on the winter. We're hoping we'll have an open winter without a lot of snow."

Crews will demolish the courthouse and prep the site for a new county building, he said.

Initial concerns were raised about the existing building's structural soundness in February when a chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling of the Clerk of Courts office. Upon closer inspection, other problems were found, and the county hired Clark Engineering Corporation of Sioux Falls to make a structural analysis. Clark gave the commissioners an initial estimate of $280,000 to $285,000 to make repairs.

Nordwald said the building is safe and was never condemned, but commissioners knew they were going to have to take some action soon.

Paying for a new county building will be another matter. Nordwald said he and other commissioners are "looking at our options right now. We're playing with some plans and trying to develop some numbers on what it will actually cost to replace the courthouse. Then we'll be talking with the public more on what we're looking at spending to replace it."

Nordwald was not prepared to give any cost estimates on a new courthouse, but said "it wouldn't surprise me if it was $3 million to $4 million."

Meanwhile, offices are being packed and vacated and should be moved by next week, he said.

"We had some buildings in Alexandria that became available and we just decided that that was going to be a safer thing for our employees. Nobody actually condemned (the courthouse) and told us we had to move out. It was just the more practical option and the best way to go."