Design Award Entries

Mississippi County Courthouse Rehabilitation & Addition

A new 18,000 s.f. addition designed to complement the original 18,000 s.f. courthouse completed in 1921. The project provided significant improvements in security, technology, efficiency, accessibility and convenience to the public and staff. It has already been recognized with multiple design awards.

Project Statement

The Mississippi County Courthouse in Blytheville was originally constructed between 1919-21 in the colonial revival style at approximately 18,000 square feet, 3.5 stories, clad with brick and cut limestone. It was listed on the National Register in 1996.
In 2014, a proposition was made to replace the two older courthouses (one in Osceola and one in Blytheville, as Mississippi County is one of ten counties in Arkansas with dual county seats) with one new courthouse. After years of deliberation, along with the successful campaign of County Judge John Alan Nelson, who ran on a platform promising to keep the historic courthouses, in February 2019, through his leadership, voters approved the extension of an existing tax and bond issue to fund the renovation of the courthouses, with the Blytheville courthouse receiving the first major renovation and addition to what we see today. The plan was to not only repair the interior and exterior of the original courthouse, but to construct an addition that would double the size of the facility allowing for the growing needs of the County, and provide enhanced security for the public and staff.
Problems with the courthouse were long, including heavily damaged plaster walls and ceilings, non-ADA restrooms, outdated wiring and lighting, poor connectivity and no separation between judges, public and prisoners. The roof was in terrible condition and leaking.
The new 18,000 square foot addition was designed to complement the original structure. It is shorter and it does not extend out past the outer edges of the original courthouse. The addition was blended by using similar building materials of brick and limestone, picking up on horizontal lines and window proportions. The new curtain wall on the east side of the building allows natural light to fill the public stairwell and introduces a sense of transparency-- important in public buildings today. The deeply set glass of the curtain wall, separated by vertically oriented trim, speaks to similarly deeply set old wood casement windows. The new steel staircase and exposed steel beams showcase one of the County’s most successful industries. The addition houses a new large court room with a double barrel-vaulted ceiling utilizing acoustical plaster, significantly controlling echo. New offices for circuit judges, staff and jury rooms, and a sallyport as a dedicated entry for detainees, along with a secure elevator to holding cells, dramatically improves safety for the public and staff.
A major challenge was site restrictions of city streets, a railroad crossing and high voltage overhead power lines. In order to accommodate the sallyport, dedicated prisoner transport entry, secure parking for judges and additional parking spaces for the public, one street was closed and major power lines were moved. Landscaping around the courthouse was significantly improved, including access to the grave of Blytheville’s WWII Medal of Honor recipient, Edgar H. Lloyd. An exhibit in the new lobby displays the actual Medal.
Improving energy efficiency in the historic building was important. The older wood windows were kept and new storm windows utilizing low-e technology were added-- reducing heat gain and noise from nearby trains. A highly efficient HVAC system known as Variable Refrigerant Flow was installed throughout the project. LED lighting and occupancy sensors were provided, including restoring original light fixtures in the marble lobby and public corridors.
The grand courtroom, likely the largest courtroom in the State of Arkansas, received new period-correct woodwork, new pews, decorative painting on the ceiling and walls, and a new period appropriate chandelier. Original wood pews, of which only a few remained, served as a template for new custom pews and were refurbished as seating in some corridors.
Additional features include a custom copper & glass skylight at the west entrance to the old courthouse, manufactured using early 20th century catalogs. Though the original canopy had long-ago been removed, post card images were used to guide the design. The new canopy re-uses original cast iron lion’s heads for mounting, and new decorative elements, using patterns from local Native Americans, on display at the nearby Hampson Archeological Museum, was inscribed into the canopy. Those same motifs incorporated into the artwork of the ceiling in the large courtroom. Original wood entry doors at the historic courthouses, also long ago removed, were replaced with new period correct wood doors, with lettering displaying all of the townships of the County in the transom, and the date of the founding of the County.
Throughout the building, new exhibits and art, including custom paintings and photography, showcase the history of Mississippi County, its people, its industry and its culture. Important historical county records, though needing to be within a controlled environment, can still be seen by the public through a transparent corridor connecting the new and the old buildings--encouraging passers-by to go see their own historical documents.

The project has already been recognized by Preserve Arkansas and the Fay Jones School of Architecture. It was also one of five courthouse projects selected nationally by the National Center of State Courts for exhibiting sensitive additions to historic courthouses.