Grants for courthouse work could be scarce

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 2, 2002

The removal of the 1954 building may help get the Freeborn County Courthouse on the National Historic Places list, but a chance for immediate historic preservation grants is dim due to the state’s fiscal predicament, according to a Minnesota Historical Society official.

&uot;Right now we do not have sufficient federal funds to award grants,&uot; said Britta L. Bloomberg, Director of Historic Preservation, Field Services and Grants Department. &uot;Funds are also in short supply for the state grant program.&uot;

The state program, the County and Local Project Preservation Grant, provides up to $75,000 to a local government for acquisition and restoration or preservation. The government has to match the grant at least dollar-for-dollar. Since 1996, 111 projects across the state have been funded through the program.

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However, a bonding proposal for financing the program met a veto by Gov. Jesse Ventura during the last legislative session.

There is only $66,000 left in the pot for this year’s grants. The historical society has already reduced the maximum endowment to $20,000 and narrowed down the eligibility rules.

But Bloomberg stressed that a listing on the national historic register brings much better chances for grant opportunities, though they are contingent upon availability. &uot;Certainly from the standpoint of qualifying for the grant money when it’s available, the listing is a very important first step,&uot; she said.

1,500 properties are registered as national historic places in Minnesota. According to Bloomberg, there are 56 courthouse buildings, either currently in use or originally used as a courthouse, among them.

Past attempts to register the old courthouse failed. But the county considers the removal of the 1954 building, which the board approved as part of its courthouse expansion project, will create another opportunity to try. County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen said that preserving at least three sides of the exterior is an important requirement, and the ’54 building vacation will pave a way for registration.

Bloomberg wasn’t so sure. &uot;It’s not that cut and dried,&uot; she said. The period of construction and alterations added to the original structure are among things the state review board considers, she said.

Nicollet County Courthouse in St. Peter, just listed on the National Register in September, has a similar circumstance to Freeborn County’s courthouse, according to Bloomberg. The application was once declined because of the addition of an entry way to the front facade. But a tornado in 1998 destroyed the addition, which brought back the original look. The Historical Society approved the nomination even though the building still has an addition in the rear.