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Montgomery County Courthouse: An inside scoop

 | Published on 10/23/2021
In the spring of 2018, crowds gathered around the Montgomery County courthouse in downtown Crawfordsville to see a 22-year effort come to fruition. On May 17, an enormous crane lifted the 86-foot, four-sided, restored clock tower with its five-foot clock faces into place atop the historic building. It had been nearly 80 years since a clock tower tower had crowned the courthouse.

This inspiring, citizen-led campaign was the dream of local physician and state politician, Marion Kirtley, and was carried to success after “Doc” Kirtley’s death by Sandy Lofland Brown and other committed citizens. This was a nearly half-million dollar fundraising and design effort. Later in 2018, Peter Kagayama, internationally known author and grassroots engagement strategist, celebrated the MoCo clock tower as a highly effective way to tie people to their city and county. (Kagayama was in town to celebrate the Chamber of Commerce’s 100th birthday.)

Day-by-day, the elegant tower on top of the building does engage our community. The tower and the eye-catching vote tallies that appear on the courthouse lawn during elections are the way most citizens know their courthouse — from the outside.

For the county elected officials and employees who work inside the courthouse and in the South Boulevard building, the courthouse is far more than a visual centerpiece. Inside the buildings, the public workers asked themselves, “How are we going to continue to deal with these crowded workspaces?” And, “How are we going to protect the vital (and ever growing) public records we are entrusted to keep?”

Plans for the new Government Center arose from these and other needs. (See last week’s LWV column for part one of this series.)

Current plans include moving offices located on the first floor of the Montgomery County Courthouse and offices located in the South Boulevard building to the new Government Center north of town. This means the Auditor, Assessor, Treasurer and Recorder (and others) will move from the courthouse to the center. Auditor Jennifer Andel and Treasurer Heather Laffoon look forward to the relocation: they and their staffs will have more room to conduct business in a setting more convenient to people. They point out the easy ground-level entrance into the new building.

Clerk Karyn Douglas and her staff look forward to gaining some sorely needed extra space inside the courthouse. How offices will be moved around within the historic courthouse building hasn’t yet been determined. An architect has been hired to assess best practice.

It is certain, though, that most of Montgomery County’s official public records will move. All officials spoken to for this column note the value in having our government records, some of which date back to 1832, stored at the Government Center in a safer and more climate-controlled space. Even before the move, the clerk’s office with its voluminous archive of paper has been protecting old documents by scanning them electronically “as fast as we can.” The clerk’s office has a staff position for that purpose.

Among the physical records at the courthouse are the invaluable “Transfer Books,” real estate records contained in bound volumes that go back to early in the 19th century. In the new building these and other physical records can more readily be protected against damp, fire and other natural and human harm.

In coming years much of the work done by our government offices will be done digitally. The Montgomery County Government Center is being constructed with an eye to protecting both physical and digital records both now and into the future.

The Montgomery County Commissioners too are pleased that the new facility will have a better space for public meetings, hearings, and other gatherings. The health department, once located at the South Boulevard site, currently operates from its COVID test site center at 308 W. Market St. They will move to the Government Center when the facility is ready.

The center is $5.5 million public-private partnership that will be operational when the county celebrates its 200th birthday next year. As part of this opening, the county is getting ready to announce a program with Athens Arts and the Art League of Montgomery County whereby people can purchase art from Montgomery County artists or the Untitled 2.0 show and donate it or loan it to the county to be displayed in the new Government Center. Watch for details to be released this week.

As a Montgomery County resident, you have a key interest in this building. The public relies on a “courthouse” for all services and information about taxes, deductions, licensing, real estate, property boundaries, passports, and many, many more official things. We all need to know how our county is spending its resources.

Visit the Montgomery County website (www.montgomerycounty.in.gov) to read job descriptions for all departments. County Administrator Tom Klein has recorded a highly instructive “County Government 101.” The program, first offered live in September, is League’s October Learn with the League offering to the community. It can be accessed on the LWVMC website, Facebook page, or YouTube Channel as well as on the Montgomery County website and on the Chamber of Commerce website.

Please contact the commissioners or an individual department if you have concerns about these relocations and what they might mean for you. The Government Center may be more convenient to use once you drive there, but it will no longer be possible to walk easily to the new Government Center if you live in Crawfordsville as about 63% of our county population does.