Butler County Historic Courthouse $1.65M restoration contract awarded

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

It may be winter, but the contractor the Butler County commissioners just hired to do the first phase of the nearly $5 million restoration of the Historic Courthouse will be getting to work soon.

The commissioners approved a $1.65 million — including contingencies — contract with NR Lee Construction to replace the roofing systems, namely the slate roof and adjoining gutter systems and the flat roofs and repairs to plumbing and the chimney.

Chris Hacker, the county’s asset, procurement and projects director, said the base bid from Lee was $1.5 million which was in line with the estimate and the other two bids they received were more than $1.7 million. He said COVID-19 shortages didn’t necessarily impact the bids, but could elongate the projects.

“I don’t know that you can directly tie the pricing to COVID, but now lead time on some of the materials, everybody’s feeling that, not just construction,” Hacker said. “We tried to be very fair with the project deadline, the completion dates.”

The county spent $75,000 of the capital improvement budget last year for an architect to draw up plans to restore the 132-year-old courthouse in downtown Hamilton. The total cost of the project to make critical repairs to the courthouse is $4.6 million and it was to be phased over three years but the first phase and hopefully parts of Phase 2 will be done this year.

Hacker said materials have been ordered but work hasn’t yet begun.

The project was supposed to start last year but since work is beginning late, he said they will get the architect to work on plans for the second phase early this year.

The county paid $18,500 two years ago to do a comprehensive study on what is needed to shore up the iconic structure. The plan recommended spending about $1.5 million over the next three years for the following:

  • Phase 1: Winter-critical stabilization and basement, porch roof and mansard (curved) roof restoration
  • Phase 2: Stand stone, brick and window restoration and the remaining staircase replacements
  • Phase 3: The terra cotta repairs to the clocktower and remaining roof systems

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said some of her constituents have asked if they could couple all of the jobs that require scaffolding for cost efficiency. County Administrator Judi Boyko said they inquired about that during pre-constructions meetings.

“They use multiple medium in order to do lifts, they have hydraulic lifts as well, so not everything in construction nowadays on multi-story buildings is using scaffolding,” Boyko said. “The conversations we’ve had with them is there is no guarantee that the next award would be won by NR Lee Construction, so we’re trying our best to not set the tone for the next competitive bid process.”

Carpenter also asked if they could save money by combining the phases, but Commissioner Don Dixon said that wouldn’t work.

“The problem is the roof’s probably going to take most of the year and if you have sub contractor on top of sub contractor trying to work on the outside and some trying to get to the gutters, they wouldn’t be able to work at the same time anyway,” Dixon said.

The county hasn’t just let the building molder away, repairs have been made inside and out through the years. The commissioners authorized spending $91,994 to replace the crumbling steps on the High Street side of the courthouse, the work was completed in September 2016.

Carpenter has been nagging her fellow commissioners for years to fully restore the iconic landmark, a job that carries a $10 million price tag. For several years she asked them to annually earmark $75,000 of the estimated $1.5 million Clerk of Courts Mary Swain routinely returns to the general fund in excess title fees for the full inside-and-out restoration

She told the Journal-News now that they have committed to the first $4 million she plans to lobby for the final $6 million.

“I want to keep focusing on the courthouse so the momentum continues,” Carpenter said. “In addition to the projects currently approved the interior of the courthouse will need to be addressed next.”

Dixon and Commissioner T.C. Rogers have also been committed to protecting their $30 million asset but finances haven’t always been as strong as they are now. The commissioners erased the general fund debt completely last year, started the year with a $119.7 million general fund cash balance and recently approved an $18.7 million tax rollback.

“Not at one time, it doesn’t make any sense,” Dixon said about full restoration. “We’re going to take it a step at a time, we’re going to do what the consultants recommended, we have a plan and we’re going to stay with it. We have a budget and we’re going to stay on budget.”

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