Grants to help repair Cameron, Willacy courthouses

HARLINGEN — The state will help preserve two of the Rio Grande Valley’s historic county courthouses.

The Texas Historical Commission has awarded “emergency grants” to Willacy and Cameron counties to help them repair their courthouses.

In Raymondville, officials have waited years for state funding to help rid the 94-year-old courthouse of wide-spread mold.

Now, officials will use a $402,970 grant to try to stop the spread of moisture, which has led to standing water in the basement, high humidity levels and mold in the Classical Revival courthouse completed in 1921.

“It’s great news,” said Sally Velasquez, the county’s consultant. “This is a structurally endangered courthouse. It is very grave that we address this so we don’t lose it totally.”

The commission awarded Cameron County $450,000 to help repair the Dancy Building’s terra cotta façade and flooding problem at 1100 E. Monroe Ave.

Part of the courthouse’s terra cotta façade is deteriorating while rain is entering the building’s perimeter, County Administrator David Garcia said yesterday.

“We’re thankful,” Garcia said of the grant to preserve the three-story Texas Renaissance courthouse built in 1912. “We want to have the building available for many years to come.”

In Raymondville, officials estimate it would cost $8.1 million to $8.5 million to fund the courthouse’s complete restoration.

This year, Willacy County requested the historical commission consider a $750,000 grant — which would have required the county fund a $750,000 match — to address the spread of mold.

County Judge Aurelio Guerra has said the county would seek donations to raise money to fund its matching share of the grant.

In March, Velasquez testified before the historical commission’s architectural committee, arguing the county’s financial crisis forced officials to seek grant money to save the courthouse.

Velasquez referred to last year’s closure of the Willacy County Correctional Center, which slashed a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget while laying off 400 employees.

This year in Raymondville, Walmart’s closing led to 149 layoffs.

In February 2015, officials closed the three-story courthouse, moving employees into the Administration Building after its $2.1-million renovation.

In 2008, the Texas Department of Health found mold in the courthouse, recommending officials take steps to remove it.

By 2010, the county had paid $55,000 to draft a preservation master plan it presented to the historical commission as a prerequisite to a grant application.

Guerra has said he believed the county would pursue the project after he left his commissioner’s post at the end of 2010.

Past County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. said his administration worked to apply for a grant to renovate the courthouse but did not go through with an application because the historical commission lacked funding for the project.