Since bringing down a retaining wall around the Jackson County Truman Courthouse is an essential step in saving the national landmark in Independence, officials from both Jackson County and the City of Independence decided to forego a traditional ground-breaking to commemorate the March 16 start of building renovations.
Instead, they wielded sledgehammers to help bring down remnants of that wall during a “wall-breaking” ceremony today.
“The reason so many people are here today is because of the great importance of this courthouse,” said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who also stressed, “This is a national, historic building.”
The courthouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972—the same year the retaining wall was put in place around the building as part of an urban renewal project. That wall has continually trapped water around the courthouse, causing the foundation to deteriorate to such an extent Sanders indicated the survival of the building was at risk when he declared a “public emergency” January 30.
The declaration enabled the County to free up money from its state-mandated contingency fund to cover the costs of Phase II of the courthouse preservation project. The County, with assistance from the City of Independence and State of Missouri, had already spearheaded Phase I of the renovations, which resulted in repairing the Courthouse clock and roof, as well as the installation of new windows.
“That very first weekend with the very first rain (after the retaining walls were completed), the courthouse suffered its first water infiltration ever,” Sanders said. “From that time forward, we have seen with every rain, with every freeze, a slow deterioration of the foundation of this great building. What we are doing today is reversing that."
"A WORKING COURTHOUSE"
While this second phase of renovations are vital to safeguard the courthouse from further deterioration, the ultimate objective is put the building back to work--a point Sanders made during the "wall-breaking" as he stated, “Our goal is to once again make this a working courthouse for the people of this community.”
Independence Mayor Don Reimal and members of the Independence City Council joined Sanders and Jackson County Legislators Fred Arbanas, Theresa Garza Ruiz, Greg Grounds and Dennis Waits in participating in the wall-breaking. This phase of the renovation will remove the retaining wall and restore the courthouse grounds to their 1933 appearance. It is scheduled to be completed by August 1, well before Santa-Cali-Gon Days later that month.
The project calls for an additional 70 angled parking spaces around the courthouse.
"This will bring back a lot of nostalgia to folks who remember when we could park all around the (Independence) Square," said Mayor Reimal.