TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Travis County Commissioners Court approved Tuesday $100,000 to hire a professional preservation architect to help develop plans for restoration of the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) operates the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation program, which provides matching grants to Texas counties working on restoration projects with historic courthouses. Grants are offered in three categories:

  • Planning grants to fund architectural plans
  • Construction grants
  • Emergency grants issued for endangered historic courthouses

Eligible courthouses must have served or currently serve as county courthouses, be at least 50 years old and have a current master plan that’s been approved by the THC.

Currently, the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse isn’t eligible for funding, since it doesn’t have a THC-approved master plan. County staff compiled and submitted a master plan draft to the THC in January 2016; however, county officials said Tuesday the THC typically looks for qualifying consulting firms to author these draft master plans, not county staff.

In January 2023, the THC reached out to Travis County officials regarding that old document and with details on how the county could become eligible for future funding opportunities.

Following securement of a consulting firm, county officials said Tuesday they expect the courthouse’s restoration project will be “substantially less” than $500,000, based on their research.

The county is working to have a master plan submitted and eligible for consideration during the next grant funding cycle in spring 2024. If they receive a planning grant next spring, they can apply for a separate construction grant during later funding cycles.

County officials are eyeing a possible construction grant submission in 2026, with a minimum two-year construction cycle for the project. Specific details on the restoration and rehabilitation work with the courthouse will emerge once the county has a consulting firm contracted.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion stressed the importance of this project and the magnitude of Sweatt’s influence in the region. Sweatt was a prominent civil rights activist who confronted and ultimately helped desegregate higher education institutions.

With his historic significance and contributions in mind, Travillion said he wants to see this project — and the courthouse as a whole — reflect the influence Sweatt had. While he supports incorporating a consulting firm, Travillion said he wanted to see prominent local officials and organizations — including the African American Cultural Heritage Commission and Bob Ward with the Travis County Historical Commission — to ensure the history and context of the space is appropriately honored.

“This is really prominent and important issue,” Travillion said.