September 22, 2010

City’s historic ‘Old Courthouse’ slated for demolition

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

One of Watford City’s oldest buildings, ‘The Old Courthouse’ is slated to be demolished this week. The building, which is currently owned by the McKenzie County School District No. 1, was built in the late 1930s to be used as a hospital.
“It was never used as a hospital,” says Frances Olson, McKenzie County auditor. “When it was voted to move the county seat from Schafer to Watford City, the county bought the building and made the necessary changes to accommodate the county, which moved in June 1, 1941.”
Although all of its offices didn’t fit in the building, the courthouse used the building until 1975, when today’s courthouse was built.
“I always liked the old courthouse building,” remembers Michon Sax, former McKenzie County Social Services director. “The Social Services offices were never in the building, but I worked there in the Abstract office and ate lunch there every day with my mom.”
When the building first became the courthouse, Sax’s mom was a county judge. Sax walked from the elementary school to her mother’s office every day to eat lunch, and then went on to work for the Abstract office prior to her career with Social Services.
“My office was in the southwest corner below the Abstract office,” says Sax. “It was a lot like working in a dungeon, so when the new courthouse was built, it was quite a transformation; like night and day to say the least.”
Even though she recalls her office like being in a dungeon, Sax remembers the building as a beautiful place.
“It was a very interesting and beautiful building,” recalls Sax. “It had these great hardwood floors and the railings were just beautiful. But still, it’s a good thing to see it go. The school needs the space and an adequate building.”
Following the courthouse, the school has been using the building for its transportation offices and storage. Over time, the old building has stopped meeting the school’s needs, and it is just not feasible to fix it up any longer.
“We are taking the building down due to its age,” says Steve Holen, McKenzie County School District No. 1 superintendent. “Among other things, we lost the heating when we upgraded our other buildings and the district doesn’t want to put any more money into the aging building.”
Immediately following demolition, the district plans to begin phase one of a possible three phase project.
“Phase one includes a building for storage and the transportation office,” says Holen. “Phase two and three would include a bus barn and more district storage. But for now, those two phases are just possibilities for the future.”
In an effort to keep some of the building’s history, the school has donated some of its contents to the Heritage Park, where they will be used in one of the park’s historic buildings.