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Hempstead eyes bank for courthouse

Letter of intent gives county 90 days to consider purchase of Hope building by Jim Williamson | January 27, 2017 at 5:55 a.m. | Updated January 27, 2017 at 5:52 a.m.
Hempstead County officials are looking at the feasibility of purchasing the Farmers Bank building in downtown Hope, Ark., for use as a courthouse.

The Hempstead County, Ark. Quorum Court approved a letter of intent to negotiate with Farmers Bank to purchase the downtown Hope, Ark., bank building to serve as a courthouse.

The letter of intent gives the county and bank officials 90 days to discuss how the project will proceed. 

About 125 people attended the called Quorum Court meeting Thursday in the courthouse in Hope.

The letter of intent does not obligate Hempstead County to purchase the bank building, but allows the county to review methods of financing the purchase of the bank building and for the building to serve as a courthouse.

Photo by Stephen B. Thornton
10/8/13 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON Matt Flannery, co-founder and CEO of Kiva, speaks to a crowd in the GReat Hall at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock Tuesday afternoon.

The majority of courthouses in Southwest Arkansas were built during the 1930s by the Work Projects Administration, and signs of age are surfacing.

The county faces the quandary of repairing and upgrading the courthouse building to meet national building standards or purchasing an existing, newer building with fewer maintenance problems, Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse said.

A letter from architect Wayne Trull says renovations for the Farmers Branch building would cost $1.7 million. The bank building would cost $1.3 million and another $300,000 to tear down the existing courthouse.

Another option for the county was the renovation of the existing courthouse at an estimated cost of $4.6 million.

The renovation project would include four floors with new lighting, new heating and air conditioning systems, new interior finishes, new elevator, exterior window replacement, cleaning and sealing, a new roof, new security and some new furniture.

The existing courthouse has asbestos and roof leaks. It also not in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for bathrooms. When the courthouse was built, the standards didn't exist.

Farmers Bank has offered to sell the bank building to the county for $1.5 million on a five-year payback plan with no money down and no interest. The colonial-style building, at Third and Hazel streets near downtown Hope, is appraised at $5.5 million.

Bob Burns, owner of the bank, and Paul Ball, president of the bank, have made the officer.

The Farmers Bank building has 36,000 square feet of floor space, compared to the existing courthouse, which has 33,000 square feet.

The courthouse has 88 parking spaces, while the bank building has 95 off-street parking spaces.

Gary Johnson, a lifelong resident of Hempstead County who was a member of the audience attending the meeting, said, "Hope is excited about moving the courthouse to the bank building. The bank building is one of the finest buildings in Hope."

He also said moving the courthouse downtown in the bank building will help revitalize the town. The audience applauded his statements.

Mary McPherson of Hope urged the Quorum Court to use the existing courthouse possibly as storage because the structure is a nationally historic building.


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