Asheville Citizen-Times, 18 March 2010 — Buncombe County commissioners on Tuesday backed building a new courts building as soon as possible after District Attorney Ron Moore complained the county is not moving quickly enough to deal with courthouse overcrowding. County plans have called for construction of the structure, which would not replace the current courthouse, to begin in 2014. Commissioners said they do not want to wait and asked for a new plan that would include proceeding with construction of an addition on the courthouse itself and the new building during roughly the same time frame. The courts building would be located on College Street a few yards to the east of the county courthouse, roughly in the area where the courthouse annex and a parking lot are now. Tentative plans call for it to have four stories of finished space with two floors of underground parking. The beginning of work on the courts building had been planned to coincide with the retirement of county debt used to build a new jail and refurbish McCormick Field, said Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton. It is not clear what the financial impact would be of building the structure sooner. Commissioners voted last September to authorize design work on a courthouse addition, sometimes called a life safety tower, that would contain stairwells, elevators and restrooms in a structure that would be attached to the east side of the courthouse. There are not enough elevators in the courthouse to handle traffic, and stairways don't meet building codes, creating a potential fire hazard, Creighton said. On Tuesday, Moore told commissioners that he and other members of a task force that worked to come up with solutions to courthouse problems were disappointed that commissioners were moving ahead with the life safety tower before building space for new courtrooms.
“The only thing that will help the court system is to give us some adequately sized courtrooms as soon as possible,” he said. The line to enter the courthouse through a security checkpoint typically spills out the door in the morning, Moore said, and courtrooms are often so full that bailiffs have to ask defendants' relatives to leave the room so that there is enough space for defendants to sit down. Creighton said plans call for construction of the safety tower first because workers will need the use of space around the intersection of Davidson and College streets to locate cranes and materials. Reversing the order would have made the job more difficult and expensive, he said. Construction on the life safety tower is scheduled to begin this fall at a cost that has been estimated at $21.8 million. Commissioners voted Tuesday to authorize County Manager Wanda Greene to negotiate a contract with two firms to head up the work. Commissioners said they recognize that courts do not have enough space but want to be sure to take steps to keep the county courthouse usable. “That is the symbol of Buncombe County. We owe it to the citizens of Buncombe County to keep that symbol,” said Commissioner Carol Peterson. “We need to make sure that that courthouse is maintained.”
Asheville [13 March 2010] — A city board on Friday unanimously approved Buncombe County's plans to add onto its courthouse, but members expressed concern about the future of another county building to be torn down as part of the project. Members of the city Downtown Commission said they were generally pleased with plans to add a tower containing elevators, restrooms and stairwells that would reach up to the eighth floor of the courthouse on its east side. But the commission also voted 6-2 to ask that the county refrain as long as possible from tearing down the courthouse annex building at 189 College St. The two-story brick building houses the county elections board and was completed in 1922, originally for use as a funeral home. The county plans to demolish the building to create more space for construction staging for the courthouse addition. Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton said it will have to be removed in any case in 2014. That's when the county plans to begin construction of a second building to hold courtrooms and related facilities. It would be centered roughly on the northern end of Davidson Street, just south of where the street intersects College Street, and would use land the annex sits on now. Plans call for that building to contain four stories of finished space plus two levels of underground parking. Commission members said plans sometimes change, and it would be unfortunate if the county tore down the annex then later decided not to proceed with the courts building that would use that space.
“In a lot of instances, phase two never happens,” said commission member Bruce Hazzard. During construction of the addition, the annex building could house construction offices that would otherwise be located in trailers on the same ground, he suggested. Creighton said the county has little choice but to provide more space for courts, and that he is reasonably sure that the courts building project will move ahead. “It's a need we've got to address,” he said. The commission does not have the ability to block demolition of the annex, but Creighton said county officials' “objective is not to take the annex down any earlier than we have to.” The courthouse addition would include a new courthouse entrance and, because it would meet requirements for safe fire exit routes, would allow the county to reuse former jail space on the building's top floors that now sits empty. Architect Keith Hargrove said earlier this week that he hopes to add onto the courthouse “quietly,” in a way that will minimize the visual impact of the project. Board members seemed to think he will succeed. “The restraint there I appreciate. You're not trying to show up the existing building,” said member Matt Sprouse. The commission's approval is not required for the addition to be built, but the project will need approval by City Council to move forward. Construction is projected to begin in late fall at an estimated cost of $21.8 million and take 18 months to two years.
Asheville (12 March 2010) — A city board approved this morning Buncombe County’s plans to add onto its courthouse, but expressed concern about the future of another county building to be torn down as part of the project. Members of the city Downtown Commission said they are generally pleased with plans to add a tower containing elevators, restrooms and stairwells that would reach up to the eighth floor of the courthouse on its east side. But they also voted to ask that the county refrain as long as possible from tearing down the courthouse annex building at 189 College St. The two-story brick building houses the county board of elections.
The county plans to demolish the building so as to create more space for construction staging for the courthouse addition project. And, Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton said it will have to be removed in any case in 2014. That’s when the county plans to begin construction of a second building to hold courts that would be centered roughly on the northern end of Davidson Street, just south of where the street intersects College Street. Commission members said plans sometimes change and it would be unfortunate if the county tore down the annex then later decided not to proceed with the courts building that would use that space. Creighton said the county has little choice but to provide more space for courts and that he is reasonably sure that the building project will move ahead. The commission’s approval is not required for the addition or the demolition of the annex. The addition will eventually need approval by City Council.
March 11, 2010: The Asheville Downtown Commission is scheduled to vote on the $20 million design of a planned addition to the Buncombe County courthouse on Friday. The addition would be located on the rear, or east, side of the courthouse and contain elevators, stairwells and bathrooms. That would bring the building in compliance with building codes and allow use of top stories that once held the county jail. The commission meets at 8:30 a.m. Friday on the first floor of City Hall. It is also scheduled to discuss use of Pack Square Park and food vendor carts downtown. The addition will eventually require approval from City Council.
The Asheville Downtown Commission was created by City Council "...for the sustainability and continued development of downtown, a vital urban center of western North Carolina's economic, cultural and visitor activity." The Commission meets on the second Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m. in the First Floor North Conference Room in City Hall, Asheville, N.C. The normal length of the meeting is 1-2 hours. In addition to providing City Council with recommendations on all things Downtown, the Downtown Commission carries out Downtown Design Review on major development projects within the Central Business District.
Asheville's courthouse, completed in 1928, is one of the most extravagant courthouses in North Carolina. In 1792, after its founding, Buncombe County built its first courthouse in what was then known as Morristown, renamed Asheville in 1797. Several log and brick courthouses were constructed during the 19th century including substantial buildings of 1877 and 1903. By 1923, with the rapid growth of the county and Asheville, county court officials proclaimed that a new courthouse was "imperative and essential." City planning authority John Nolen recommended the development of a "civic center" as an extension of Pack Square in his 1922 plan for Asheville. City and county officials endorsed the idea of a uniform civic center with paired buildings, but when the city began advancing a scheme designed by architect Douglas Ellington, a rift arose between the two commissions. Whether because of stylistic conservatism or Ellington's lack of experience, the County Commissioners, led by chairman Edgar M. Lyda, selected the Washington, D.C. firm of Milburn, Heister & Company to design the new courthouse in December 1926. The firm enjoyed a national reputation for quality work in public buildings across the southeast. Although founder Frank Pierce Milburn died in September 1926, his son, Thomas Y. Milburn, succeeded him as president with little effect on the firm's operations.
The Courthouse is Milburn's most opulently finished public building. The building's complex setbacks, window groupings and overlay of Neo-Classical Revival ornamentation result in a distinctive building from this period, when courthouses were characterized by simple massing and conservative classical elements. The interior lobby contains a sweeping marble staircase, bronze and glass screens, a coffered ceiling with ornate plasterwork and a mosaic tile floor that echoes the ceiling's tones. The lobby is one of the best-preserved and most elegant Neo-Classical interiors in the state. Initially estimated at $1,000,000, the final cost ran closer to $1,750,000, and the removal of the old courthouse required another $65,000. The Angle-Blackford Company of Greensboro, North Carolina, served as the general contractors. Upon completion in 1928, the 17-story building was the tallest local government building in North Carolina.
Few people who come to the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina, can miss the open area at the cross-roads of the city, called "Pack Square." The square throbs with life as pedestrians, cars and commerce crisscross the slight hill that marks a mid-point of the city. Pack Square has always been the center of activity in this scenic North Carolina urban area. First called Market Square, then Public Square and later, Court Square for the Court House that faced the public area, the name "Pack Square" entered the city vocabulary in 1903. The name change followed the complex transfer of land from the County Commissioners to Pack and from Pack to the "people" in a DEED FOR A PACK SQUARE PARK signed by George W. Pack and his wife Frances. The deed details the provisions of the land exchange. A new Court House was to be constructed and the old 1876 court house was to be removed. In the space made available by the removal of the old court house, an open park was to be maintained for the people of Asheville. By public referendum the city honored George Willis for his generous philanthropy by naming the new space created by the removal of the old court house, "Pack Square," and George Willis Pack honored the city he had called home by creating a "park for the people."
Part of Pack's generous motivation was prompted by his desire to provide a fitting landscape for the newly erected monument to his friend Zebulon B. Vance (d. 1894), state senator, three term governor of North Carolina, humanist, secessionist, and champion of the common man. The shabby and inefficient Court House that faced the monument dominated the Court Square and in 1895 Pack began thinking about a new court house and what role he might play in building one. In the complicated land purchase and later donation of land, Pack managed to enable the taking down of the old and poorly functioning Court House, to gain consensus on the construction of a new Court House and to put forward his vision of a newly transformed city. Pack, appears to have always been a man of clear vision and action. In Asheville, he had the opportunity to use his accumulated wealth to put some of his visions into tangible form and in the last decade of the 1800's he set about doing just that.
The story goes that following the creation of the Vance obelisk and installation on Court Square in 1898, for which Pack reportedly paid most of the cost, there was a swap of land for a new court house between Pack, his wife Frances, and the Board of Commissioners of Buncombe County. The complex seven-page DEED dated July 24, 1901, involved a land shuffle of property Pack had recently purchased and the exchange of the land on which the County Court House stood to Pack for one dollar and the trust that Pack established between his land and the people of Asheville and Buncombe County. While the negotiations were and are difficult to follow, the resulting legacy for Pack and his family is as he must have intended it. It is a legacy that endures. The Deed reads in part
"I offer to give to the County to be used for a site for a Court house and County offices the land on College Street in Asheville which I purchased of Col. A.T. Davidson provided that the County will dedicate to the public forever to be used for the purposes of a public square so called, in Asheville, the present Court House, to be removed, there from prior to such date as you may agree upon with Judge Merrimon and Mr. Gwyn acting for me --