Butler County Historic Courthouse restoration bill: $4.6 million

Credit: Journal News

Credit: Journal News

The long-awaited structural survey of the Butler County Historic Courthouse in Hamilton is complete, and the price tag to make critical repairs is $4.6 million over three years.

The commissioners hired THP Limited, Inc., a Cincinnati structural engineering and design firm, for $18,500 in August to survey the courthouse and recommend the best course of action for restoring the 130-year-old building.

The report indicates if the project is completed as outlined, it should be another 25 years before more significant work is needed.

“The current conditions of the courthouse have caused the need to close off areas around the building due to concerns about falling debris. Staff and visitors regularly deal with leaks and deteriorating plaster,” the report reads. “Until the repairs are completed, the deterioration will continue to grow and expand which will increase the final cost of the repairs and disturbance to courthouse operations during the work.”

THP recommended the following at a cost of around $1.5 million a year:

• 2021: Winter critical stabilization and basement, porch roof, and mansard roof restoration

• 2022: Stand stone, brick and window restoration plus stair replacement

• 2023: Courthouse roof and tower repairs

ExploreNext step for Butler County Historic Courthouse: How much will fixes cost?

Butler County Probate Court Judge Randy Rogers has worked in the iconic courthouse for the past 20 years and has been the biggest champion for its restoration. After reading the 60-page report, he said he was “really pleased with what they found and what they didn’t find.”

“I’m excited about the future for the Butler County courthouse,” Rogers said. “There are no serious structural problems in terms of the outer shell of the building. There are some things that need to be addressed but this building is still very functional. Of course we’ve been using it continuously since 1889 and the things that they put into the report, are things you would expect that just need to be done. It’s not so much restoration as it is maintenance.”

There has not been a comprehensive needs assessment on the building, and repairs have been piecemeal. Recently chunks started popping off the building. Rogers said it isn’t parts of the actual building that is falling off, rather it is pieces of material that was used to make repairs in the 1990s.

Years ago Rogers estimated it would cost about $1 million to repair the roof, install new steps around the building and shore up the flaking sandstone facade. The county commissioners did authorize spending $91,994 to replace the crumbling steps on the High Street side of the courthouse, the work was completed in September 2016.

All three commissioners have told the Journal-News they support the latest expenditure, and they will need to bid and award the projects by resolution.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter is on the Courthouse Restoration Committee and has been urging her fellow commissioners to put more money into the landmark for years.

“There are serious structural issues with the courthouse, of course I’ve been fighting for that for 20 years, to take a look at what a logical plan of improvement or repair would be,” Carpenter said. “Now that we have that report and we know the seriousness of the damaged and deteriorating roof, we are going to need to address that.”

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News the $4 million earmarked for countywide capital improvements next year might be better spent fighting the coronavirus. But he agreed the $1.5 million courthouse project — and some other critical building maintenance issues — are imperative for 2021.

“Whatever it takes to structurally make it sound, keep the envelope dry so we don’t have any big problems later on down the road,” Dixon said. “It may be a little more than that, it may be a little less than that. It all depends when they get in there what they’ve got.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers has said he knows Randy Rogers, his brother, will continue to lobby for as much money as possible for his beloved courthouse, even after he retires. He concurs they need to get started with the projects outlined in the study.

“Pay me now or pay me more later,” he said quoting the old adage.

Officials have estimated it could cost $10 million to fully restore the structure inside and out. The judge said with the new estimate he doubts it would cost that much. He said he hopes the entire community can be involved in that effort.

“I have no doubt this work is going to be done in the next few years and it’s going to be a catalyst to the interior renovation of the courthouse, which we’ve done in part, piecemeal,” Rogers said. “But it’s time to do it in a much broader scale.”

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