ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Rising inflation rates have significantly raised the cost for a Downtown Abilene project: restoring the 1915 courthouse. However, even with Taylor County having faced overbudgeting problems last year, the project is still on and won’t immediately impact the tax payer’s dollars.
KTAB/KRBC was able to meet with Taylor County Judge Downing Bolls, who had in his office, a large stack of long papers put held together by rings. It’s hard to say how many pages there were, but initially it didn’t seem like much.
Upon further inspection and explanation from Judge Bolls, he showed us the layout for a completely restored and renovated 1915 Abilene courthouse, the second courthouse in Abilene sitting across Oak Street from the current courthouse.
“The thing about courthouses are the really sort of the historic preservation vault if you will of our history.” Judge Bolls said.
Judge Downing Bolls left the room as KTAB/KRBC examined the blueprints, skimming through the hundreds of pages of floor design, stair cases and exterior fixtures. However, returning from another room, Judge Bolls brought in a small China mug, imprinted with a picture of the first Victorian-style Abilene courthouse on it.
While the courthouse being renovated currently is not as “vibrant” or “elegant” as the original, the historical value remains a priority for the county, which received a grant for $6 million from the Texas Historical Commission to help restore it to it’s original state.
However, what began as a $14 million project initially creeped up to $16 million because of inflation, but now, the project sits at roughly $19.2 million total to complete, with a potential to reach $21 million.
Rising inflation rates, the lack of labor and original, or as close to original, fixtures are becoming more scarce, and with time ticking on the project’s deadline, those financial aspects of it are squeezing both the county and the architects working on the project.
“This project if we compare it to similar other projects we’re working on at that time we were seeing anywhere from a 15 to 25% construction cost increase.” Susan Frocheur said,
Frocheur works for Architexas, which is an architecture firm based out of Austin whose specialty is repairing and restoring these old courthouses. She said the project will take an estimated two years to complete, but if materials continue to be few and far between, it will only increase the final costs.
However, both the county and Architexas are working to find creative solutions to bring the costs down even further, such as carving designs into the cement pillars as close to the original designs instead of replacing them entirely.
One question arose, though. If the Texas Historical Commission is only covering $6 million of the project and the county is overbudget, where is the rest of the funding coming from?
“This will not be funded through any sort of tax increased not this year,” Judge Bolls said.” In other words, the budget this year and the construction of this facility are not connected.”
Judge Downing Bolls confirmed a tax increase is possible, but not within the next year. That is possible through the use of Certificates of Obligation by the county, allowing them to spread the costs of the project out further over time. This prevents tax payers from paying a fortune and allows Taylor County to get the former functioning courthouse back in order and make it a staple of the newly-renovated SoDA District.