Piute County's commissioners are facing a challenge, and in their decision rests the future of one of Utah's most historic and unique buildings.

The big question is whether activity at the stately 92-year-old county courthouse will continue. If not, what will happen to the building, listed on the state and federal registers of historic places?Its future is in the hands of the county commissioners, who are in the throes of deciding whether to preserve it or construct a new building. That decision is expected in early January, according to Commissioner Don Julander.

If the commission decides to build a new courthouse, will another use be found for the old building or will it be destroyed? Can another use for it be found? And perhaps the biggest question of all - can the tiny county of only 1,200 residents afford to keep it?

Answers to these questions are being explored following recent approval by the Utah Community Impact Board to reserve $1.2 million for a Piute County Courthouse. Experts hired by the impact board will visit the site in early January to study options.

In a report compiled by a Provo architectural and planning firm, it was concluded the present courthouse doesn't have enough space and couldn't easily accommodate improvements. Sandstrom and Madson Inc. recommended replacement. Needed renovation and expansion are estimated to cost $1.6 million.

The courthouse was built in 1903 at a cost of $17,670. It contains perhaps the most unique judge's bench in Utah, constructed by hand right in the courtroom by a pioneer Piute County family. The top is made of 61 half-inch inlaid strips of beautiful wood. Six hand-carved panels decorate its base.

But the building has little storage, work areas are small with insufficient space, and there are code violations. Its electrical wiring, plumbing and heating are outdated, lighting is inadequate, it is settling and cracking because of earthquake activity, and maintenance has become very costly.

On the brighter side, the report noted the historic building is beautiful and in a prominent location along Main Street. It is in the heart of the community alongside U.S. 89 and is a landmark for local residents as well as those passing through Junction.

The structure has been remodeled and upgraded several times. It was damaged by fire in 1944 and an earthquake in 1967.

Because of inadequate firefighting equipment, residents formed a bucket brigade to douse water on the blaze. The fire damaged a hallway and two offices but was kept from spreading.

The earthquake caused the building to shift, leaving cracks in the walls. Doors couldn't be closed, so they had to be replaced.

The building received a face lift in late 1985 when the exterior was painted at a cost of $11,050. The bricks were painted red, the same shade as in the past, and a light gray trim on the woodwork and the mortar restored the building's beauty as well as protecting it from deterioration.

The building is a classic example of turn-of-the-century architecture.

It has been used as administrative headquarters for the county since it was built. Through the efforts of county administrations, it has been kept in good condition over the years. Most of the original rooms and partitions are intact.

Most structures of that vintage in Utah have been abandoned and demolished. Some have been restored.