‘Courthouse square’ plans unveiled

Published 3:06 pm Thursday, June 26, 2008

The one-block area in Columbus that includes the historic courthouse could have a very different appearance in the future based on proposals presented last week.

Withers & Ravenel, an engineering and planning firm from Cary, presented several proposals to Columbus Town Council last week for improvements to &dquo;Courthouse Square.&dquo;

The plans include making Gibson and Courthouse Streets one way, constructing bumpouts, planters, gazebos, arbors or pergolas at each corner, and adding new landscaping around the entire square.

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Greg Lambert of Withers & Ravenel said most of the existing, large trees would be removed. He said some trees might be saved if possible, but most should be taken down to make way for new trees that would enhance the view of the courthouse.

&dquo;The trees around the courthouse now obstruct the view and there are a lot of diseased trees,&dquo; he told town council. &dquo;We&squo;re looking at removing all the trees and starting fresh.&dquo;

Columbus councilman Michael Gage said he would prefer to see large trees around the courthouse. Lambert suggested putting in medium-sized trees that still provide shade but do not block views of the courthouse for passers-by.

Lambert&squo;s proposals called for widening the sidewalks around the courthouse to 10 feet, and adding a 6-foot wide planting strip or bio-swale that would improve drainage and provide room for new trees and&bsp; plantings.

The enhancement to the square likely would draw more people to the square, Lambert said, and he noted that his proposed &dquo;option one&dquo; adds 12 parking spaces around the square and provides handicap access to the courthouse.

Lambert proposed making Courthouse Street one-way with traffic traveling from Hwy. 108 to Ward Street, and making Gibson Street one way with traffic travelling from Ward Street to Hwy. 108. But Columbus Police Chief Butch Kennedy suggested it may be better to make both streets one-way toward Ward Street because it&squo;s difficult for traffic to enter Hwy. 108 from Gibson Street.

Lambert&squo;s first option also calls for moving the Dough-boy statue, currently located in the middle of Courthouse Street at the intersection with Hwy. 108, to the corner of that same intersection. Additionally, he proposes&bsp; a large structure that would attach to the front of the Womack Building, providing shelter for visitors and even room for vendors at the farmer&squo;s and flea markets on Courthouse Street. Columbus Town Manager Tim Holloman noted that the town would have to obtain approval from the county for anything involving the Womack Building or the courthouse lawn.

Lambert emphasized that his proposals are preliminary plans and he wants to hear opinions from local residents and officials to help shape a final plan.

Columbus Town Council plans to review further the various proposals for improvements to the square before deciding whether it will have Withers & Ravenel proceed with the design work. Columbus Town Manager Tim Holloman says the town plans additional meetings this summer to consider the plans and likely would involve the Polk County Appearance Commission and others in the discussions.

The Town of Columbus recently regained ownership of Courthouse and Gibson streets from the county. The county had obtained the streets as part of a past property deal with the town, but later determined that counties are not authorized to own streets and decided to return them to Columbus. The town can obtain state funding for road maintenance, and Columbus officials have said they would like to consider improvements to the streets and the area around the courthouse.