Federal funds requested to help renovate the old Taos County courthouse | Local News

TAOS – It’s seen better days, the old Taos County Courthouse.

As Democratic Representative of the United States Teresa Leger Fernández recently visited the iconic building in Taos Square, she saw first-hand the need to rehabilitate this piece of the city’s history.

Taos Mayor Daniel Barrone, Taos County Director Brent Jaramillo and Taos County Commissioners Darlene Vigil, AnJanette Brush and Candyce O’Donnell have presented a proposal to Leger Fernández in the hope that she will ask for nearly 1 , $ 3 million in federal support.

“It’s a bit disheveled because we’re tearing down, getting things organized and exploring,” said Richard Sanchez, director of construction for Taos County. “There are a lot of things that have been done over the years that no one knows.”

“It’s a historic mystery tour,” Leger Fernández joked.

The funds would be used to stabilize the building; compliance with access requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including adding an elevator, installing energy efficient equipment and upgrading public washrooms. The plan also includes the preservation of historic murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.

The courthouse renovation is one of 10 projects pushed by Leger Fernández to receive federal funding in fiscal year 2022 as part of the new community projects funding program before Congress.

The first courthouses

Taos County’s first courthouse, built around 1830 near the square, was destroyed in a fire. A second courthouse, built in 1880 at the northern end of the square, was also destroyed in a fire – county records, stored in a safe, were miraculously saved.

The current building, built in 1932 on the same site as the second courthouse, was designed by Albuquerque architect Louis Hesselden.

It was built using adobe bricks and combined aspects of Spanish Colonial, Pueblo and Mission architectural styles, reflecting the unique blend of communities in northern New Mexico.

Morals in murals

In 1934, the WPA Public Works of Art Project commissioned four Taos artists to paint murals on the walls of the courtroom. Known as the “Taos Quartet”, the performers included Emil Bisttram, Ward Lockwood, Bert Phillips and Victor Higgins.

Painted in the style of Social Realism, the murals depict allegorical themes rooted in morality and law and are titled in English and Spanish.

Suction, Reconciliation and Transgression were painted by Bisttram. Justice breeds content, Greed breeds crime and Superfluous laws oppress were painted by Lockwood. Moses the lawgiver was painted by Higgins and serves as the centerpiece of the room.

The murals are frescoes made from tempera pigments mixed with distilled water and applied over a wet lime plaster.

A New Mexican fresco artist, Frederico Vigil, restored all 10 murals in the 1990s and created an additional mural.

“You’ve had visitors here looking at them – in awe. They continue to enlighten us,” said Leger Fernández. “So, yes, the fact that you are working to preserve the historic nature of these is a very compelling reason [for the funding]. “

Leave the square

In 1968 plans were drawn up for a modern courthouse and prison complex on Paseo del Pueblo Sur about a mile south of the plaza, and in 1970 the Taos County government moved its operations there. The building has been converted into offices, shops and an art center.

“Although it has been 50 years since the courthouse served as a government building, its place in people’s minds is still paramount,” Jaramillo said in a statement. “Making hosting a variety of businesses viable will strengthen this sense of Taos identity. “

Gradual renovation

The rehabilitation of the courthouse will take place in several phases. Phase 1 is being tendered and work is expected to start in July. The estimated budget is $ 1.5 million, from a community development block grant and the county general fund.

Phase 1 will include the demolition of the west infill, a new sewer line and storm sewer, a two-story elevator, an ADA-compliant interior and exterior ramp to the north aisle, and a new staircase to the second floor of the building. west side of the building.

A sprinkler system, a fire alarm system, a new electrical service and a new transformer, as well as the leveling of the yard and sidewalks are also included in phase 1.

Phase 1A, for which Leger Fernández was asked to get $ 1.3 million, would include a new fire alarm system, a replacement staircase for the wall room, ADA-compliant toilets on both floors, electrical and mechanical works and a reconstructed south gate.

Phase 2, with an estimated budget of $ 2.9 million, would include improvements to mechanical, ventilation and electrical systems, new basement stairs, new roof, new doors and windows, demolition of east infill, site grading and landscaping work.

It would also include replacing the building’s wood floors and resurfacing the exterior with stucco.

Future tenants

“Why are you going to use the building?” Leger Fernández asked during a discussion in the room of the murals after visiting the building.

“We talked about a creative space for economic development. We also have a proposal from the Taos County Historical Society to create a museum,” Jaramillo said.

“We’re also working with Main Street and the chamber of commerce, who might want to set up an office there. Or it could function as a reception center. Taos Pueblo would also like to use this building as a visitor center. Jaramillo said. “So we’re still looking at all of these different options. “

This story first appeared in Taos News, a sister publication of The New Mexican.

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