February was not a good month for the Central Texas community of Mason. In addition to battling the pandemic and an arctic freeze that shut off power and water for days and crippled much of the state, the county courthouse in Mason was destroyed by a fire. Although the Texas Historical Commission had provided some money for a scheduled May 2021 renovation, that amount, combined with insurance funds, will fall $3.6 million short of what’s needed to rebuild the historic county courthouse.
While community bankers in Mason were in the midst of dispensing the second round of PPP funds to the area’s small businesses, a number of them also went to work to save the 111-year-old courthouse and solicit funds needed for its rebuild.
“The Commercial Bank is the county depository for the courthouse and we set up a fund early the next morning [after the fire] with our county treasurer,” says Curtis Donaldson, vice president/lending and business development at The Commercial Bank. “We launched the fundraising campaign right away. The bank made a donation to get things going.”
The fundraising effort, Friends of the Mason County Courthouse, is now a legal entity within the State of Texas and has filed for 501C(3) nonprofit status. Mason’s three banks—The Commercial Bank, Mason Bank and BancorpSouth Bank—have established accounts to collect and receive donations under the banner “Rebuild Our Courthouse.” The Friends of Mason County Courthouse has also created a website to solicit funds. In addition, a GoFundMe account has been set up to receive donations.
Donaldson has been named vice president of the Friends of the Mason County Courthouse board of directors and is working alongside the board’s president, Bobbie McMillan, former owner of The Commercial Bank, and board treasurer Connie Stockbridge, former senior vice president of Mason Bank.
Since the February 5 fire, the Friends of Mason County Courthouse team has worked diligently to keep the fundraising ball rolling. The initial phase of the project—to clean out the courthouse and remove asbestos—has been completed. Funds granted and raised to rebuild the courthouse currently stand at $15.8 million:
- $3.7 million from the Texas Historical Commission renovation grant;
- $6 million from a Texas State Legislature supplemental budget appropriation;
- $5.7 million from Texas Association of Counties insurance funds; and
- $400,000—and counting—raised by the Friends of the Mason County Courthouse via donations from across the U.S., as well as area fundraisers and $100,000 contributions from both The Commercial Bank and Mason Bank.
The total cost to rebuild the courthouse is estimated at $19.8 million. The Friends of Mason County Courthouse is hoping to raise a total of $4 million, or an additional $3.6 million, to ensure that the necessary funds are available for the rebuild. The group is planning a day-long fundraising event that will include a music concert and other activities.
“Local and regional banks have called, offering to make donations or support our fundraisers,” Donaldson says. “We hope that by raising awareness of the tragic fire, we can broaden our fundraising efforts to include additional Texas community banks. Community banks know, perhaps better than anyone, how important it is to maintain communities and the historical structures that are often the center of town and essential to their vibrancy.”
Dave Stauch and his firm, CPM Texas, have been enlisted to manage the Mason County Courthouse rebuild. In addition to managing rebuilding projects for numerous county courthouses in Texas, Stauch led the team that managed the renovation of the State of Texas Capitol and building of the Capitol Extension, an $187 million project completed in 1993.
Texas community banks interested in helping rebuild the Mason County Courthouse can contact Donaldson at 325/347-6324. To contribute to the rebuilding effort, banks and individuals can also donate to the “Rebuild Our Courthouse” efforts via three of the area’s banks: