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County buys 1830 Rockford courthouse

Surry County announced a property purchase at a time when few others seem to have the appetite to swallow current interest rates in order to make such a buy. So, when the fiscally conservative county commissioners opened the checkbook to buy the 1830 Surry County Courthouse in Rockford it took many by surprise, more so given the amount of time it had been in the works.

Chairman Bill Goins announced the move, “The board of commissioners are pleased to announce in conjunction with Surry 250 and Surry County’s Invest in Surry Initiative the acquisition of the 1830 Surry County Courthouse in historic Rockford. This acquisition process has been ongoing since last fall and was slowed due to title issues on the part of the seller. Now that this process has been concluded we are excited to move forward.

“The board wants to thank the county’s parks and recreation department, development services, and public works department for their property improvement efforts the past few weeks.

“The county staff is already engaged and working closely with a restoration specialist from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Office to develop a plan and use for the building and property going forward.

“It is the county’s primary intent to return use of this property to the citizens of Surry County in some capacity as we move forward in developing a plan for the property.”

To the public it was an unknown move but in county circles it was known for some time; some secrets can be kept – from some. Surry County employees knew and had sent a photographer well before announcing the buy to begin documenting the purchase through restoration of the property.

To some this secrecy did not appear the ideal way to conduct business with the taxpayers’ money. With no public input on the matter solicited, one county commissioner candidate has been raising concerns.

Assistant to the County Manager Nathan Walls had responded to questions on the purchase last week, “The purchase price was $75,000 and the Board of Commissioners are set to announce the acquisition of the old Rockford Courthouse at their regular board meeting.”

County Commissioner candidate Ken Badgett was the one peppering both County Manager Chris Knopf and Walls with questions on the acquisition. He expressed concerns this process was done behind closed doors, only to be revealed to the public upon completion.

“The secrecy involved in the transaction is unusual — or, maybe not. Who knows what the commissioners discuss in their ‘closed sessions?’ If done properly, the old courthouse building in Rockford is going to be very expensive to restore,” he added.

It was explained that County Attorney Ed Woltz contacted an Elkin realtor in May 2021 to determine if the Rockford Courthouse was available after hearing the property owner had passed away. He was advised the property was for sale, but the sale was contingent on approval from the clerk of court.

In September he was given approval to offer an amount between $50,000 – $80,000 for the property; the written offer was accepted on Oct. 5. There were issues with the title relating to the estate and connected trusts that took until late April to clear, not a wholly uncommon occurrence in estate matters.

Badgett also made inquiry to the county about the possible conveyance of the courthouse to the Rockford Preservation Society, a move akin to the J. J. Jones property transfer made the African American Historical and Genealogical Society of Surry County.

After Monday’s meeting Knopf offered unsolicited that there were no plans at this time for such a property transfer and that restoration specialists would be continuing their examination in order to proceed in planning. The desire remains, he said, to create some sort of community use center from the historic building.

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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