Dreams for Swain’s old courthouse hinge on big money

Swain County would need more than $4 million to renovate its historic courthouse, putting plans for a cultural museum to be housed on the second floor in jeopardy.

The 1908 building has undergone few repairs since it was built, and thus accumulated a laundry list of expensive renovations.

“We’re looking for money — lots of money,” County Manager Kevin King told commissioners at the county’s annual retreat last Saturday (Jan. 31).

A structural engineering report commissioned by the county revealed the extent of repairs needed before a proposed cultural museum and visitors center can occupy the building.

The idea for a Swain County history museum and heritage center has been tossed around for years. Significant time has been invested in the idea, including picking stories to highlight, collecting oral histories, and most recently, applying for grants to fund the project.

But without massive structural repairs, the second floor could not safely house the museum or anything else.

“The second floor will hold itself up, but won’t hold much more weight,” explained King.

Repairing the second floor alone will cost $2 million, King said.

And any second floor renovations could delay the opening of a visitors center run by the Great Smoky Mountains Association proposed to occupy the first floor.

“We have to come in and do some massive renovations, and whatever renovations we do will impede the downstairs totally. For one, you’d have to drop the ceiling,” said King.

Of course, the second floor won’t necessarily have to be redone if plans for a museum are scrapped. That’s a decision commissioners will have to make — “if we want to continue with the museum on the second floor, or just the visitors center on the first floor,” King said.

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