New library complex will honor courthouse heritage

In Massachusetts, a vacant textile mill is now an art museum. An old city hall became a restaurant. In California, a sprawl of empty factories were transformed into a shopping district. Across the country, vacant industrial sites as well as landmark buildings are taking on different roles and a brand new life in projects that architects describe as “adaptive reuse.”

In 2010 Jackson County will complete its own example of modern Main Street redevelopment with the reopening of the restored historic courthouse and its new addition as the Jackson County Public Library Complex. Construction is scheduled to begin in May on the twin projects, which reflect more than a decade of discussion and planning by the community.

“In architectural designs nowadays, the emphasis is on being green and on recycling what we have,” said Donnie Love, historic preservation specialist at South Carolina-based McMillan Smith and Partners, architect for the project. “There’s just nothing more green than the reuse of an existing building like the Jackson County Courthouse, which was so important in the history of the county.”

The renovation of the 95-year-old structure and its expansion to provide modern, multimillion-dollar library facilities has won widespread community support. The project has raised local awareness about historic preservation and the benefits of bringing a new life and role to a landmark structure while retaining much of its original look and feel.

“The courthouse played such a large role in the past and now it will have an important role for a long time in the future. This is a terrific accomplishment for the people of Jackson County,” said Sylva native Ronnie Smith, one of the founders of McMillan Smith and Partners.

When the restoration is complete in 2010, the courthouse will house Jackson County’s Historical Association, Genealogical Society and Arts Council, and an auditorium. The 20,000-square-foot library to be built onto the back of the courthouse will have many of the same architectural details as the older building. A two-story atrium will connect the two buildings.

“This location is an ideal spot for the library,” said Smith. “People are going to be drawn to that location, and the buildings will see a lot of use.”

The project is expected to cost around $7.5 million, being paid for by the county. A campaign by the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library to raise an additional $1.6 million to be used for furnishings, fixtures and equipment has already raised nearly half of its goal.

“In some modern development, there has been a shift away from the adaptive reuse of historic buildings like this because of the fear that it would be too expensive to renovate them,” said Love. “The Jackson County project is a good example of how that’s not always true. The courthouse did fine in studies of what it would need to be brought back to a functioning facility, and because of the proximity to downtown, it was a great location for a new library.”

The Neoclassicism architecture of the courthouse was from the design of Richard Sharp Smith, one of the architects for the Biltmore House. Smith came to the mountain region in 1890 at the request of George Vanderbilt. He was a resident architect employed to help with the design and construction of the grand estate in Asheville.

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