The new Hempstead County’s Courthouse Grand Opening, taking place in the parking lot at its front entrance on 200 East Third, was heavily attended, bringing hundreds of spectators on a windy mid-morning to give the building a proper beginning.
At 10:00 a.m. a program began of speakers and presentations. Hempstead County Judge Jerry Crane welcomed all attendees, saying, “It is only because of you and your vital support that we now have a tremendous facility to better serve the needs of our county.”
An honor guard presented the US and Arkansas flags. The Pledge of Allegiance was said and Arnetta Bradford, owner of the Hebrews 11:1 coffee shop sang a rousing National Anthem. JP Jessie Henry offered a prayer.
Crane, who was next on the program, said, “We’re here today because of the sacrifice and service of many” and named several present-day and past contributors to obtaining and refitting what had been a bank building for courthouse use.
He also reminded the audience of the continued need to help members of the community, citing the story of a homeless man who had been seen around the old courthouse years ago. Soon, courthouse officials and employees began to take action on the man’s behalf:
“They took it on themselves to help this man. He didn’t have an ID card. He couldn’t prove who he was. They took the time to get his birth certificate. They took time to help him know who he was. They took time to bed him down—I believe it was upstairs—in the courthouse. They even helped bury him. That’s a very very important thing. That’s showing true love for the community.”
Crane credited Bob Burns, Farmers Bank & Trust chairman of the board and a previous county judge, the late Haskell Morse, with the “vision that the county would own this building some day.”
Then Justice of the Peace Ed Darling took the lectern, remembering four years ago when he began to ask around the county about adding a one cent per dollar sales tax to help pay for the adjustments to the building Farmers Bank & Trust sold the county for $1.5 million that were necessary to make it the new courthouse. He said the county paid $6 million to renovate the building. Insurance companies assessed the building at a value of $12.5 million. “Is that a pretty good return on investment?” Darling asked.
Justice of the Peace Steve Atchley, project manager for the move from the old courthouse to the former bank building, asked the building committee to stand, which included Atchley, Darling, Henry, Sherry Stewart and James Griffin. “They helped me many times on this project that we’ve been involved in for two years,” Atchley said.
He also recognized the members of the Hempstead County Quorum Court and the other county officials present.
“This is a building of art. It’s equipped to the top equipment that could ever be put into a new courthouse as of this day. We were able to refurbish 95 percent of all furniture,” Atchley said. “I feel like the county has gotten a tremendous bargain compared to other counties I’ve heard of trying to revitalize their courthouses. I’m talking about ten or twelve million dollars.”
“We have a certain amount of money left [from the one cent sales tax]. This tax will end next month, June 30th. This tax will not be renewed. This tax is over with,” Atchley announced.
Chris Gosnell, CEO of Farmers Bank & Trust, the bank that sold the building to the city in 2017 said. “We are excited to partner with Hope and to get this building sold and set up.”
He announced that FB&T had partnered with the Hope Public Schools to raise $125,000 in scholarship funds.
He then read a letter sent the county by Governor Asa Hutchinson congratulating the county on its “modernized, updated county facility.”
District 3 Arkansas Representative Danny Watson then recounted an occasion when he was a Justice of the Peace himself and was introduced to Burns, Morse and then-state-senator Bruce Maloch as they were discussing the idea of the county buying the FB&T building. “The only thing I asked Mr. Burns and Senator Maloch was, ‘Will you be patient with us? We’re broke.’”
Watson also recalled receiving letters from critics of the buy. “My point is we stayed focus and we stayed the course,” he said.
As the Hope High School band began playing, lunch, set out on tables to the left of the Courthouse’s entrance was served, drawing a long line.