Renovations proposed for Lowndes County historic courthouse

Published: Oct. 15, 2019 at 6:39 PM EDT
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By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 15, 2019

LOWNDES COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) -- South Georgia is finding ways to spend some potentially extra pennies.

Next month, voters in Lowndes County will decide on whether to pass SPLOST VIII, an extra penny sales tax to help fund capital improvement projects.

On Tuesday, the SPLOST Campaign Committee held a tour of some of the projects proposed in SPLOST VIII. Some of those included the historic courthouse, the Lowndes County Communications Center, The Valdosta Fire Department and the Lowndes County Animal Shelter

Lowndes County is proposing $3 million to rebuild the animal shelter.

"Literally it looks like it's about to fall in. They say they have 6,000 animals, 6,000 dogs a year that have to come through. Somebody has to handle stray animals, it's not something that we can just ignore. So to have a facility that can deal with it I think is crucially important," said Mike Gudley, SPLOST Campaign Committee Chairman.

The City of Valdosta is proposing $455,000 to fund 65 new air packs and a new air filling system for the Valdosta Fire Department. Fire officials said the current system is 30 years old and in need to be replaced.

Another chunk of the Lowndes County portion is proposed for the historic courthouse. Officials are proposing $9 million for renovations on one of its most iconic buildings.

Telling stories of more than 100 years of the region's history, it has sat empty for years. This proposal could bring new life to old walls.

"It was the center of town, it was the statement of who you were. Downtown was booming then," said Donald Davis, President of the Lowndes County Historical Society.

Built in 1905, Davis said the courthouse became a symbol for what local leaders wanted Valdosta to become. Local leaders had recently secured the north-south railroad from Macon, as well as the Atlantic railroad to Jacksonville just before the turn of the century.

"The town was really taking on a new air, a new sense of importance, a sense of becoming a city of the new south," Davis said.

But now the building's foundation is only telling stories from the past, sitting vacant and in need of major restoration.

The county is proposing to transform it into a regional visitor center and hub for travelers. The second floor would remain a courtroom, allowing the space to be rented for meetings or weddings.

Architect Celine Gladwin said they plan to maintain the building's original integrity and history.

"The building itself, architecturally, structurally, is able to also tell its own story without us needing to do much research," Gladwin said. "To restore the building to its original footprint, if that makes sense. So to uncover the original character, the metal ceilings, the wood floors."

Funding for the project is reliant on SPLOST VIII. If it passes, it will last six years and bring in an estimated $134 million to be divided between each municipality in Lowndes County.

Early voting is open now.

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