The Bear Lake County Courthouse in Paris, Idaho is the oldest still-active courthouse in the state. It was built in 1885 and is an Americans with Disabilities Act nightmare.
Paris is the county seat and is located 10 mile southwest of Montpelier on Hwy 89, roughly 6,000 feet above sea level. The historic town was founded in 1863 making it one of the oldest communities in the Gem State.
The court is on the second floor of the building and is accessible only by a steep stairway, making it necessary to carry handicapped people up to the court, said Magistrate Judge R. Todd Garbett. There is no elevator.
Over the years, the brick courthouse has had its share of remodeling projects and hardly resembles the original building.
“The U.S. District Attorney told us that our courthouse was the most egregious violation of the ADA act they had seen in the state of Idaho,” Garbett said. “The building is so small our county commissioners hold their meetings over in the school because there is not a room in the building.”
He said he’s been in the top of the building and seen some of the beams holding the building together and they are showing signs of age and some cracking.
The county had an architect give them some options, and they chose the conservative design. They don’t need all the bells and whistles, they just need a workable design. The new building will be located just north of where the current building is, said County Clerk Cindy Garner.
The new 15,000 square foot courthouse will be ADA compliant and will be on a single floor. There will be a room for court and another for the commissioners to meet in. The building will also have offices for the clerk, treasurer, assessor, prosecuting attorney, driver’s license and sheriff’s office.
Space for a jail isn’t needed, the county contracts with Caribou County to house prisoners.
“We had a study done to find out what the price of remodeling the old court house would be compared to building a new one. The difference was $70,000,” Garner said. “We tried three times to get a $3 million bond passed to fund the new building and finally had to resort to judicial confirmation.”
Once the new building is finished, the fate of the old courthouse is still up in the air.
“If someone could come up with a valid use for the building, I think the commissioners would look at it,” Garner said. “She thought the commissioners would love to keep the building if someone would restore it.”
“It’s hard to find a use for it. If it would have been taken care of over the years, it might be easier to put it back to the way it was,” Garner, who has been working for the county for just over 28 years, said. “I would like to see it be back to the way I remember it as kid, with the old wood floors and the original walls.”
The county wanted to start construction of the new building a little earlier, but they were having a hard time finding contractors. The county now has a contract with Big D Construction. They have put feelers out and are just waiting for the bids to come back. The county is hoping all of the bids will be back in January.
“We hope to get started in March, depending on the weather,” Garner said.