A letter of offer for funding received last week by the Bailieborough Development Association (BDA) now means the local community group can push ahead with plans to fulfil phases one and two of ambitious proposals to develop the former town courthouse.
Funding of €100,000 to transform the building into an economic and tourism centre was received late last year under the Rural Economic Development Zones (REDZ) Programme, with a second more substantial allocation of more than €370,000 set to come under PEACE IV.
"It is exciting, very exciting," admitted BDA Chairman Peadar Reynolds, when speaking to The Anglo-Celt.
"It is an iconic building in the town, and it's important that now, in the not too distant future hopefully, it can be a place all the community can benefit from."
Built in 1817 the historic courthouse, complete with Bridewell jail dating back to 1833, has remained empty since former tenants and owners Cavan County Council moved their district roads' services office from the dilapidated property in 2015.
At the time it was suggested that bringing the courthouse up to spec could cost in the region of €380,000. A feasibility study was carried out in 2016 by BDA to determine the possibility of restoring and renovating the courthouse as a community resource. The local organisation is now on course to sign a lengthy lease for the property with the Council.
Work on Phase 1, an upgrade to existing office accommodation, is due to start in the coming weeks, with BDA currently evaluating tenders, while Frank Cooney Architects have been appointed to manage design.
Once completed, it will provide office space to rent, as well as 'hot-desks' for business people living locally looking to avoid a commute to larger urban centres. The scheme has already proven hugely popular at the BDA's offices at the Bailieborough Community Training Centre, where workers can avail of services including high-speed broadband, fax and printing, and audio conferencing services.
"It's important that we are retaining jobs in the town," explains Lee McDonnell, manager of BDA services. "Office space like that will mean people living locally have the opportunity to stay locally should they choose. The business might not be right here, but the extra cup of coffee, or newspaper, the lunch bought during the course of the day feeds back into the local economy.
"We started off with just one hot-desker, and from him he has encouraged another two to take up places. There are more now who want to do it but we have to manage the space. It's all positive."
The civil works on Phase 1 are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
For Phase 2, the latest tranche in funding secured under PEACE IV's 'Shared Spaces' scheme, the group will progress plans to develop the courthouse as a multi-purpose community and performance space, with seating for up to 120 people. In total, some €373,000 will be received from the European fund designed to support peace and reconciliation. Work on Phase 2 is scheduled to commence in January 2018 and should be completed by September 2019.
The third and final phase will seek to restore Bridewell Jail for commercial and tourism purposes.
Also provided will be a visitor centre and museum detailing Bailieborough's plantation history, with the BDA already engaging with Ian Crozier, CEO of the Ulster Scots Agency. As part of their research going forward BDA have visited other courthouse developments, from Dowra in West Cavan to Wicklow Jail, as well as Oughterard in Galway.
"We want to make sure what we put into the courthouse in Bailieborough is multi-functional and multi-use. We want to put life back into it," says Lee.
Peadar points to the BDA's successful track record since the mid-1990s in running local enterprise initiatives, and hopes the courthouse can be the latest rewarding venture. for the town.
"We have always been able to keep our heads above water, repay our bank loans, while also providing an important service to the town and its business people. We want that to continue with the courthouse as an important part of that," he added.