Buncombe County Chair Gantt’s remarks on the opening of the new courthouse complex

From Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt:

Welcome on behalf of all Commissioners, including Frost, Newman, Belcher, Jones (critical business trip and very disappointed that unable to be here), King, Fryar and Stanley, Peterson, and Bailey who with Vice Chair Jones and I were on Commission that actually started and approved building process

Other elected officials and judicial officers

Thank you for public servants like Office Bingaman, Capt. Jeffrey Bowen, and others who have given their lives for our safety and comforts- Please give a moment of silence
Billy Graham- 95th birthday celebration

Wow, how many folks really thought we would build it? In your lifetime? In your grandchildren’s lifetime?

Current elected officials only sit in chair for a limited time- We build on the successes, failures, attempts, programs, ideas of the men and women who came before us- Rich history of Courthouse- Many champions of adequate facility, many were simply ahead of their time

Brief history of 8 Buncombe County Courthouses

General Assembly bill to create Buncombe originally gave County name of Union- Changed to honor Col. Edward Buncombe, Revolutionary War hero
1st courthouse built in 1792 in Morristown, renamed Asheville after Gov. Samuel Ashe (1796- 1798) in 1797- Built the same year Buncombe County bill ratified and included most of WNC with
1,000 residents
2nd courthouse built later in 1790s
3rd courthouse built by citizens in time period 1825 to 1833
4th courthouse built in 1850, burned by fire 1865 during Civil War
5th courthouse a small brick temporary building
6th courthouse built by architect JA Tennent ~ 1883 on site where Vance Monument is now located- Cost of $33,000 with large Opera Hall, stage capable of seating 400 people- Built bonfire in afternoon to create smoke signal that Opera performance that night, so folks could get into wagons for show
Built 6 courthouses in first 100 years of County- Only 3 in next 120 yrs
7th courthouse built in 1903 on south side of College Street- designed by Kenneth McDowell- Demolished to make room for our existing beauty in 1929- When demolished; Chairman Mark Reed commented that the citizens “almost hung us for spending $50,000 to build it. Now, replacement couldn’t be touched for less than $200,000.”- Noted that everyone chewed tobacco, but not spittoons meant tobacco juice all over the floor and walls – “You don’t know anything about tobacco spit unless you went to an old courthouse like that”
Imagine shock the leaders and citizen would have 100 yrs later when Buncombe became the 1st County to ban tobacco products of any type on County property
8th courthouse is existing courthouse- Built in 1928 on $1 million budget, $1.75 million at dedication but $2.4 million final audit with 17 floors- Tallest local government building in NC when completed
Frank Milburn was architect, completed 1 year after his death- Newspaper noted the building cost twice as much to build per cubic foot than City Hall, had 130 telephones that costs expensive $318/mo. to maintain- When media complained, # of phones cut down to 89 with $178/mo.

Don’t even want to guess at 2013 phone/computer array numbers and costs

Original design was for twin Art Deco style buildings, but County residents wanted more traditional building and didn’t think flashy Art Deco reflected their character and style
Asheville Mayor Cathey became so frustrated with Chamber of Commerce committee that stood in way of City Hall who wanted twin Art Deco building with County, who has going slower- Mayor Cathey said

“That city hall is going up if we have to lay the foundation so deep they will hinge on hell.” Called Chamber committee “kickers and soreheads” before calling them a bunch of donkey using the term beginning in j and ending in s, rhyming with black mass

Details of December 1, 1928 courthouse dedication

Chairman EM Lyda hosted dedication ceremony- Gave a history of the preceding 6 courthouses, dedicated a time capsule

“In this land of loveliness and beauty, situated amidst peaks piled on top of each other, Asheville is not localized; its fame is as universal and as far reaching as the rising and setting sun….. We are a progressive people and … We have tried to provide a building here which will serve the future generations as well as the present one… and I believe we have succeeded. We are justly proud of this opportunity of turning over to you people this magnificent structure.”

Comments included

“Lord Sakes, this is better than what I have at home.”

“Why the jail is good enough to live in”- Judge Hill and Thornburg- Some have tried to make this their home- Jail diversion program helps here
1990 bond

Proposal for additional Justice Center with new courthouse and jail

$43million bond issue lost on 03-27-90 by a 2 to 1 margin (12,659 to 7,407) – 22% turnout- Tax rate at that time was 81.5 cents per $100
Leaders of effort were then-

County Manager Steve Metcalf (at least 85 appearances in favor),
Chairman Gene Rainey,
Judge Lewis and Walter Allen
Sheriff Buck Lyda and Asheville Police Chief Gerald Beavers,
“Don’t handcuff us to the past”- Harvey Haynes (AB Tech President) led Citizens for a Safe Community in favor of bond
“This building violates more code provisions than it satisfies”- Judge Lewis
“The fact remains that someone is very likely to sue them… They have acknowledged the liability. They’ve said they are aware of the overcrowding and fire hazard. I don’t see how they could defend themselves.” – Curtis Venable

Opponents challenged need, noting that the concept of eliminating and moving leased office space to the Courthouse would leave the numerous ghost town of Asheville buildings even more empty and spooky- Called “Taj Mahal” for lawyers and convicts- No lawyer jokes please proximity of lawyer to convict is coincidental

Progress results from people who took unpopular positions and visions of the future- Thank you- This courthouse is possible because you made community aware of our needs and how we outgrew the wonderful 1928 version # 8
9th courthouse
2 phases
Recycling old courthouse
Major decisions made in history of Asheville and Buncombe County-

Include decision to not build Strauss Greenberg Mall in place of Lexington Avenue stores
Decision to renovate old Courthouse and continue County offices downtown-
Started several years ago with replacement of all windows, most from 1928 with concrete weights- then $27.7 million to create Life Safety tower and courthouse renovations- build 2 separate stairwells, public restrooms, good elevator- Demolition and removal of steel jail on top 3 floors created 33,000 square feet of useful office space- No lease or rental payments

New Judicial complex

$29.3 million new opening, 5 new courtrooms, connection of all facilities, improved security- Need square footage, LEED certified info
Started at March 17, 2009 BCC meeting- Learned Safety Tower 1st

June 16, 2009 meeting- Resolution for Life Safety Tower from bonds executed in 2010- Middle of recession, economics going terrible- Created construction jobs that helped Buncombe County have the #1 or #2 lowest unemployment rate

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.” Rosalynn Carter

“Leadership is convincing people they can do something they shouldn’t be able to do”

Thank you to County leadership of past Commissions (build on their shoulders, start from a great place and further advance facilities, buildings, parks)

Wanda Greene- AAA bond rating- highest is US- Created a mortgage of $65k on $200k mtg- No new bond, no tax increase to fund these projects- No rent or leased space for any County program or staff
Jon Creighton
Bill Stafford
Acceptance of building on behalf of Buncombe County Commission and residents of County

The people of B County deserve an energy efficient and thoughtfully designed courthouse that will complement the visionary 1928 one we have recently recycled for decades of future use. I am proud and honored to accept this tremendous building for the benefit, use, and dreams of all Buncombe County residents, taxpayers, and our County Commissioners who made this happen.
We look to the future with confidence that our judicial needs will be met and satisfied in a frugal, energy efficient, and proud style.

Using comments of RR Williams at the 1928 dedication “For 2 months out of 24 we are Democrats and Republicans. For the other 22 months, we are loyal citizens, all working together for a common end, all prompted by the same high patriotism.”- Raleigh and Washington DC listening?- Thank current Commissioners for following this wise comment

Thank Rep. and past Chairman Nathan Ramsey for NC flag that will be flown outside the Judicial Complex from the General Assembly
Encourage all residents to think boldly about needed facilities-
Buncombe County Commission and local governments should
• never be fearful of progress and change, but seek the best course at the most reasonable cost
• always listen to the public and provide facilities (including new schools, new civic center, fine arts, arena, fully Open pack Square Park, schools when required) needed to remain the desirable community we strive to be
• have foresight and dreams that extend beyond today and next year and ponder what is good for grandchildren and what we can do to make a difference in quality of life of future generations of Buncombe County residents

Take care of this facility so that when the time capsule is recovered, our descendants will be impressed with our vision and willingness to provide what the community needs and deserves- I hope they will acknowledge our attempt to answer the call of good government


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One thought on “Buncombe County Chair Gantt’s remarks on the opening of the new courthouse complex

  1. Carl Grossi

    What a great history of the courthouses! I think it’s so great that the majority of the citizens want to preserve the great city of Asheville and Buncombe County. As a professional in the area, I am a huge fan of “do everything local”. I am proud to call this my home and this is where my business, The Bail Pros (https://yourbailpros.com/nc/asheville/) also calls home. As an officer of the court, I am excited to see all of these changes and what the future actually holds. I have a lot more information about the courts and legal system in Buncombe and would be happy to discuss these topics with anyone :)

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