by William Otwell, FAIA
Preservation and rehabilitation of historic structures requires vision, political will and significant resources. The rehabilitation of the Yavapai County Courthouse is an intriguing example of how the process can work to the advantage of our local community. The Courthouse, in its idyllic setting on the Plaza, is used daily by the court system, and up to 65 outdoor events each year are scheduled. Daily use of the Plaza grounds by the public is an important aspect of life in Prescott.
Design and construction of the Courthouse was commissioned by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors in 1915. A design competition was held and 26 design submittals were received. Architect William Bowman of Denver won the competition and the Courthouse was constructed for $250,000. As late as 1974, the Courthouse was home to the entire county government, including the jail on the top floor. Today, the County government offices are housed in 55 buildings.
The rehabilitation process was initiated in 2002, when the board of supervisors commissioned a Building Condition Assessment Report, prepared by Otwell Associates Architects. This report outlined the scope of work required to bring the building up to current standards for life safety, energy efficiency and occupant comfort.
Six years later, the City of Prescott planning staff used the report as part of its submission to the American Planning Association’s inaugural “Top Ten Public Places in America” program. The Courthouse Plaza was listed in the top 10 along with Central Park in New York City, Union Station in Washington D.C., and the Santa Monica Pier in California.
In 2012, the board of supervisors commissioned a three-year, $5.6 million rehabilitation. The heavy caseload of the courts did not allow for any down time, so all work was performed after hours and on weekends. The project was divided into three phases, with construction scheduled for summer months to provide for proper outside temperatures and daylight to perform the work. The rehabilitated Courthouse continues to house the 100 judges and staff of the court system, with all new energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems, restored windows, stabilized granite steps and a fully restored original courtroom.
The project received a 2015 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award. The vision of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors has been realized.