Crews inspect beneath the sidewalk Friday near the Confederate monument in Denton to determine whether water pipes were hooked up to the fountains at the statue’s base.

Denton County officials have hired a company to put to rest a lingering argument surrounding the Confederate soldier monument at the Denton County Courthouse on the Square: whether its two drinking fountains once had running water.

The county will spend less than $1,000 to bring in Ohio-based company Ground Penetrating Radar Systems to inspect the ground beneath the sidewalks for any traces of water pipes that would have fed into the fountains. A crew is scheduled to conduct a ground-penetrating radar scan at 3 p.m. Friday.

“We’re trying to find evidence that there were water pipes connected to the monument,” said Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture.

Willie Hudspeth, the Denton County NAACP president and the leader of the local effort to address the monument’s racist legacy, has long asked Denton County commissioners to turn on the water, which he and others have said was once turned on exclusively for white people to drink from. To turn on the water and allow all people to drink from it, Hudspeth said, would be a positive move toward healing racial tensions in Denton.

And now, as the Commissioners Court’s power structure is set to change with the departure of longtime Denton County Judge Mary Horn, Precinct 4 Commissioner and Republican candidate for county judge Andy Eads has approved the county spending the money to address Hudspeth’s claims.

“It’s a symbolic move for me and my efforts to get the water turned on,” Hudspeth said, “because at one time only one race could drink from those fountains. Now, you’re saying to this community that it wasn’t a good idea.”

Hudspeth says this is a step in the right direction. He attends Commissioners Court nearly every time it meets to ask county officials to answer the drinking fountain question. At times, he has shown frustration in open court that county leaders have not budged on the issue.

“It’s encouraging,” he said of the latest move. “I have to admit that.”

The county is pulling the money to pay the company from the county’s facilities department’s annual budget, Eads and Riddle said.

The county already has begun revamping its sidewalks around the courthouse. Eads called Hudspeth on Wednesday to tell him the county had hired the company.

“Since we’re removing the sidewalk there, now is the perfect time to try to get an answer for that once and for all,” Eads said.

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @dalton laferney.

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