Milford Borough Architectural Review Board has had a chance to look over the plans for the Pike County Courthouse addition. Commissioner Matthew Osterberg, who served on Borough Council 25 years, said that the reaction of the Review Board was "very positive" and an important step for the County.
The County must receive approval from Milford Borough Council before going forward with the annex on Broad Street. Because the Courthouse is located with the Historic District in downtown Milford, the Architectural Review Board must first give their blessing, and advise the Council of their approval of the proposed design. The plan also impacts the Zoning Ordinance, which has yet to go through the Borough Planning Commission for their recommendation.
Kevin Stroyan, Chairman of the Milford Borough Architectural Review Board, said that they are still waiting for the formal submission of the plan, which includes information such as elevations and resolution of any zoning matters. The Commissioners, on August 26, submitted a preliminary plan so that the County would have a sense of the feeling of the Review Board.
He stated that the board had no objections to what they saw.
For an addition to an existing building, the Review Board looks to see that the design is compatible with the surroundings. Stroyan said that the addition needs to conform in matters of rhythm and size, but must be distinguishable to a passerby of what is "old" and what is "new." The new addition cannot be an exact replication of the old style.
A completely new stand-alone structure goes by other criteria, Stroyan said.
A hearing will eventually be scheduled with the Borough Council to consider all of the plan requirements.
A two story brick annex with a basement is planned, to take up the left side of the present courthouse property (as seen from Broad Street) without buying any new land. The historic 1874 courthouse will be maintained. Because of the limited space available, the former Victorian-style home now used as the judge's chambers will have to be taken out of the way.
The Judge's Chambers building is expected to be put to bid in case an interested buyer would be willing to relocate it, Osterberg said. He affirmed that if there was no one willing to buy and relocate the house, it would need to be demolished.
Sean Strub contacted The News Eagle with his views about the appearance of the proposed annex as will as its need.
"This is the most dramatic change to Milford's visual aesthetic since I have lived here," Strub wrote in an email. "Perhaps the most dramatic in several generations. It will permanently change the historic character of the center of the Borough, degrading significantly the attractiveness and charm that drives our primary private sector driver of our economy, tourism."
Page 2 of 2 - The local citizen continued, "If community stewards don't speak up soon to oppose this plan, this monstrosity will get built. After more than 200 years of responsible management of the Borough's architectural assets, it will be shameful if today, on our watch, we see it thrown down the drain."
Commissioner Osterberg reiterated what the County sees as the pressing need for the expansion.
"The 1874 courthouse has served us well," he said. Particularly in the last 20 years, however, security has become a real issue. Although the last US Census showed a decline in Pike County's population after a historic climb, he said the security needs remain.
Rather than use the same entrance as the general public, the new courthouse annex will allow a separate sally port for Correctional Facility vehicles to transport prisoners in and out. The Sheriff's Department will be moved to the annex from the old stone jail house and Probation Department will locate there from the Administrator building on the next block.
Currently the secondary courtroom being used is too small and inadequate, Osterberg added. Improved court facilities will be provided in the annex.
He said that other sites were ruled out due to the needs to upgrade security by keeping the court functions under one roof.
Strub took issue with building a new courthouse based on prior projections when Pike County's population was still increasing.
The County is in the process of renovating the Mahlame building- site of a former clerical vestment manufacturer- for interim court space.
In March 2012 the County took out a $12 million bond issue, $10 million which is designated for capital projects, most of which goes towards construction of the courthouse annex. County taxes have been adjusted to fund the debt service. At least 80 percent of the funding has to be committed within three years.