ROGERS CITY - A Rogers City business owner lent his support to a push by Presque Isle County Commissioners to build a new courthouse, offering his building as a meeting venue.
Gary Rickard, owner of Center of Rogers City and Presque Isle Athletic Club, said the county's courthouse needs to be replaced. Commissioners are right to ask voters to approve a millage to fund construction, he said, allowing them to take advantage of a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" for low interest rates and available construction labor. By doing so, they'll rid the county of a building that's become costly to maintain and hazardous in its old age.
Rickard had heard of leaks in the courthouse roof, he said, adding he half expected rain water or snow melt to start an electrical fire in the old building. He worried whether a county employee working at the time with limited mobility would be able to escape such a disaster.
"If you want to know what this (building) would look like going up, you look at down the street," he said, referring to the fire that destroyed the former Fisch Brewery. "This would be exactly the same thing."
Commissioners voted at their previous meeting to ask voters for a 0.53-mill, 15-year levy to pay for a $4 million construction project. They want to replace the oldest portion of the county building, which dates from 1883. Previous drawings showed an addition to an annex built in 1988, and a jail dating from the 1970s. While commissioners had originally hoped to finance the project without taxpayer help, the county's tight budget prevented them from going ahead with a bond issue.
Now, Rickard and commissioners want to educate voters as to why they believe the millage is needed. Rickard offered the use of The Center of Rogers City, which has a large space suitable for public meetings and is directly across Third Street. Ideally, interested voters could hear some information about why the building has to go, then walk across the street and see for themselves.
Commissioners thanked Rickard for his offer, and asked when his building would be available. Commissioner Steve Lang said he'd also like to hold meetings throughout the county, with Commissioner Kris Sorgenfrei agreeing. She's long advocated for an effort to educate voters about the need for a new courthouse, especially after hearing opposition to the idea from residents in her district. Rickard responded his building is available almost any time, and mentioned commissioners would have to come in pairs to avoid having a quorum.
"We need to have lots of opportunities to tour this building," she said.