Beaufort County brainstorms plans for Beaufort federal courthouse

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comApril 11, 2014 

File: The Federal Courthouse in Beaufort in March 2012.

FILE — Staff photo

Beaufort County leaders are developing a plan to use the federal courthouse in Beaufort after the federal government ends its lease there this summer.

One possibility: The building could become home to some of the offices currently housed at the county government campus at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort, county administrator Gary Kubic said.

Whatever its use, County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville and Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling hope the public will have access to its ornate courtroom and be educated about its history.

Federal officials announced in 2012 that the courthouse would be one of six throughout the South to close, part of an effort save more than $1 million a year in rent. Late last year, they announced they intend to close four more courthouses, in North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to The Associated Press.

The federal government's lease with the county on the courthouse in Beaufort expires in mid-July, county attorney Josh Gruber said.

Coincidentally, the county might need the space if it tears down the quickly deteriorating Arthur Horne Building on its Ribaut Road campus, Kubic said. The building has substantial water damage and will be more expensive to repair than replace, he added. It houses some of the county's Magistrate Court and the information technology department.

Kubic said the federal courthouse could house county administrative staff and County Council, which would free up space for other departments.

The 19th century structure at the corner of Bay and Bladen streets became a federal courthouse in 1994. Some federal probation agents still work there, Kubic said.

It served as the county courthouse for many years and is one of the city's most historic buildings, Sommerville and Keyserling said.

"I want to see something alive and well there," Keyserling said. "It's a beautiful building. I would hope that whatever use would keep the courtroom intact."

"We can't just let it sit there," Sommerville said. "The bottom line is, it's a building that has a tremendous amount of history."

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