What Makes Ronnie Roll: The Courthouse- A Cause For Celebration

Mayor Ronnie Marks, Limestone County Commissioner Mark Yarborough, and I met at the “not new, but definitely improved” Limestone County Courthouse, which is due to open back up for business by the first of the year. Having grown up in a remodel that lasted more than 20 years, I can appreciate what it means to have “wrangled this thing to the ground and tied up all four of its legs.” I can say with a full heart it is going to have been worth the wait. The Courthouse is the embodiment of understated elegance, within and without.

Any remodel is going to have its own set of nightmares, and the Courthouse is no exception. There were structural deficiencies that didn’t show up in the old blueprints, 18 inch thick walls to deal with, antiquated wiring and plumbing, marble topped steps that could no longer be used but were ultimately rescued, and the need to increase the building’s structural soundness and resistance to natural disasters. There was also the need to get the IT capabilities of the Courthouse up to speed for all the technological needs of the 21st century.

Commissioner Yarborough sat on the afore-mentioned marble topped steps and said, “It’s been a labor of frustration, love, and aggravation. Some people love it, some hate it. They’ve worked on it for 20 years,” he said with a relieved sigh, and added, “we’ve had it for two, and the only thing left is to put up the blinds, put all the furniture in place, and hang up the art.” He laughed when he talked about his own sense of color and decoration, and wanted to make sure that people knew that the reason the interior is going to look so good is because of the hard work of Judge Jimmy Woodruff, Trish Black, and Liz Anderson.

There are several things I learned as a result of this tour. Did you know that the original base for the Confederate statue sank with the Titanic on its way over here to Athens? Did you know that the Courthouse has gone through several remodels, including in 1939 during FDR’s administration? Did you know that the Courthouse also used to house the jail? I looked at the spot that used to keep all of Limestone’s miscreants behind bars as well as what used to be the sheriff’s office and thought, “My, how times have changed.” A decision has been made to hang the brass plate that commemorates Judge Horton’s landmark decision regarding the Scottsboro Boys case on the outside of that courtroom, rather than where it was on the interior north wall. The reason is that more people will be able to see it, irrespective of what is going on inside the courtroom.

Mark told us more. “We are now connected to the Blue Line,” he said, which is the software system that is linked to Montgomery that gives instant access to all the records that pertain to any judicial case. Also, the outside street lights have outlets in them now, which will make our many outdoor festivals and events that much easier to power up.

On a decorative note, there are some high-tech additions that blend in well with the goal of maintaining the building’s historical significance. The Rotary Club, Spirit of Athens, and Tourism went together and chipped in money for an outdoor lighting system which subtly lights up the columns at night time. While it has the ability to show all kinds of colors, it will largely be used to commemorate holidays as well as the colors of local schools who may have just won a championship. There is also an art display system that will make it possible to change out art seasonally with very little labor. Security throughout the building has been increased, and at some point, Mark hopes that eventually there will be funds to open the original west side staircase access with all the necessary upgraded security measures, but that’s not in the budget yet.

I watched as the Mayor and the Commissioner talked about bringing this project to a close. It has not been easy for either of them. “We have restored and preserved our Courthouse, and not everyone has been able to do that, including Huntsville. We’ve not always agreed on everything,” said Mayor Ronnie, and Mark nodded when he finished our time by saying, “but working together just makes sense.”

And then it was time for Ronnie and Mark to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner