Who will we look like, Commissioners?
A number of years ago the Santa Rosa County Commissioners began to decentralize county offices. The practice probably goes back to the building of the Administration offices at the convergence of Old Bagdad Highway and Highway 90. Since then satellite administration offices have been built, designed to service populations and geographies more conveniently. Fairly recently the county took over an abandoned and unsightly retail complex and turned it in to a spacious, and attractive center for local government. The practice seems to have worked well. Generally, the cost of this strategy and benefits realized are a credit to the commissioners and planners of the recent past. However, this strategy may have been over utilized with the latest sight selection for a future courthouse. At this point we could discuss the merits of building a new courthouse. However, it appears to us the scope of the current conversation is less about whether or not a new courthouse will be built and more about when and where a new courthouse will be located. Although we realize the question of building a courthouse is moot, particularly if a funding path does not materialize once residents of Santa Rosa County mark their ballots in the fall. The question we must ask is must we build a courthouse without a town. Weíre not saying the Pea Ridge site doesnít have merit. Yes, it sits closer to the important Pace constituency. Yes itís a large tract of land with highway frontage. Yes, itís a green field tract with inherently less construction issues. It just has no location, no character, no history, and no tradition. The halls of justice are by design located in the centers of government, from the Supreme Court in Washington on down. Our centers of government and justice are points of assembly for commerce, arts, parades, celebrations, festivals, and the diverse workings of a community. When the new Federal Courthouse was built in Pensacola, surely a bare field on Highway 29 north of the paper mill would have been a frugal place to build. Perhaps the old Kmart on Davis Highway, (where Home Depot is now), would have been better place, more accessible if population distribution were the obvious consideration. But they chose to tear down a historic downtown landmark, the San Carlos Hotel, to make way for progress and improvement. It lies within a category 5 Hurricane flood plain. Its obvious construction cost, surrounding population densities, and even risk were not the only considerations for the location of this project. Future Santa Rosans will be utilizing the next courthouse for 50 years or more. And those who research Santa Rosa County will find the county seat is Milton and see a picture of the Courthouse at Pea Ridge on the search engine. This will point to some flaws in our design. The courthouse steps are the center of power. This is where public business is orchestrated. Although there may have been parades in Arcadia at some point (historical place close to Pea Ridge), no one can recall any. So commissioners, please consider officially moving the county seat to Pea Ridge. And provide a line item for the construction of a parade route. Also prepare for Milton to be set adrift when its downtown anchor is removed.