Butler County eyes more renovations for 131-year-old courthouse in Hamilton

The Historic Butler County Courthouse, Aug. 31, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
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The Historic Butler County Courthouse, Aug. 31, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

The Butler County commissioners are expected to approve a restoration study for the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hamilton during a time when some pieces have been seen falling off.

Butler County Probate Judge Randy Rogers had the $37,000 study in his budget for this year and it is on the capital improvements list, but the study has not yet been authorized by the county commissioners. They are expected to approve the expenditure next week.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said the study has become more pressing because chunks have been falling off the 100-plus-year-old structure.

“We need to get that done as soon as possible, somebody is going to get injured at some point in time because the decorative stone is continuing to fall,” Carpenter said. “It’ll cost a lot more money if someone gets injured than it would be simply to do the study especially on safety issues.”

RELATED: Retiring judge making new push for historic Butler County Courthouse renovations

Rogers said he believes it is not actually the sandstone on the facade that is dropping to the ground but patchwork that was used some 30 years ago to repair the iconic building.

“Do I think there’s a danger? I continue to go to the courthouse every day,” Rogers said. “We’ve pointed out where some of these things are coming from, it’s been inspected, personally I don’t feel like I’m in danger, but these are pieces of stone and if they hit you in the head they’d hurt.”

Rogers said some repairs are probably required now but the study will prioritize projects for the county in the long term. A new roof is likely at the top of the list. The roof is about 30 years old, and it has experienced some leaking, which causes internal damage.

There has not been a comprehensive needs assessment on the building and cost estimates are old. Several years ago Rogers said overall it would cost almost $1 million to fully restore the courthouse. The estimate for installing new steps all around the building was about $200,000. Shoring up the flaking sandstone facade was another $200,000, and the price for a new roof was about $500,000. Rogers said he doesn’t know how valid those prices are today.

“There never has been a real full-fledged study…,” Rogers said. “There’s wisdom in getting the baseline, OK, this is what’s going to have to be replaced within a period of time, this needs to be done right now. What the restoration committee has always advocated for was to make systemic changes or really not changes but maintenance.”

The county spent $91,994 five years ago to rip out and replace the major staircase on the High Street side of the building. The county didn’t have the money needed to replace the crumbling steps all around the building at that time.

Although these are trying financial times right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, the plan is still to erase all general fund debt by year’s end, freeing up around $9 million. Part of that money will be earmarked for capital improvements.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers concurred with his brother on the roof repair.

“If you’ve got something where there is water intrusion you either fix it for a certain price now, or you fix it with a big price later.” the commissioner said.

Carpenter said there is also a sense of urgency because the judge will retire at the end of this year after 26 years on the bench.

“We have six months period of time to line up what will be the priorities for that courthouse,” Carpenter said. “We don’t have anyone else in the entire county who has the knowledge that he personally has.”

The judge said when he retires he won’t leave his beloved courthouse behind.

“I will always be a friend of the courthouse,” he said. “Save the courthouse.”

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