Mississippi County moves forward with courthouse renovation projects

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 388 views 

After years of infighting and lawsuits, the two courthouses in Mississippi County are about to undergo significant renovations. The county received a $17.2 million bond from Stephens Inc. in Little Rock for its county courthouse projects. The bonds were rated an AA minus by Standard and Poors.

The county will spend $14 million on the courthouse in Blytheville and $2 million on the courthouse in Osceola, Mississippi County Public Affairs Director Steven Savage told Talk Business & Politics. The rest of the bonded money will be placed in a contingency fund, he said.

“We’re hoping it will only take two years … we have retained a historical architect,” he said.

These renovations have been years in the making. The county seat is Osceola and the judicial district is based in the courthouse in Blytheville. That courthouse was built in 1919, and the one in Osceola was built a few years before that, Savage said. For years, the outdated courthouses have sparked controversy in the state’s furthest northeast county.

At one time, there was a push to close the courthouses and open one larger courthouse. Osceola filed several lawsuits in recent years to stop the closure of the courthouses. Voters, by an overwhelming margin (72% of votes cast) in February, approved the bond issue.

The Blytheville courthouse has had ongoing roof problems and work to renovate the roof will begin on that project soon, Savage said. A 17,000-foot addition will be built on to the current courthouse in Blytheville. Designs should be completed by October and then the construction bidding process will begin. Construction should begin in November.

When the construction begins, the Blytheville courthouse staff will be moved onto the campus at Arkansas Northeastern College. A committee has been formed and will oversee the renovation of the Osceola courthouse.

Mississippi County is a county that has been in flux since the closure of Eaker Air Force Base in 1992. At the time, the city and the county in turn were one of the most affluent in the northeast section of the state. When the base was vacated, the local tax base eroded, jobs were lost, and the population declined. Since 2010, the county’s population has dropped 11% to 41,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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