Butler County Historic Courthouse restoration to begin soon

The time has finally come: the Butler County commissioners are expected to soon approve bids for phase one of the $5 million Historic Courthouse restoration project.

A couple weeks ago, the commissioners appropriated nearly $1.7 million to pay for the first phase of the estimated $4.6 million project to make critical repairs to the 132-year-old courthouse in downtown Hamilton. On Monday they are expected to approve going out to bid on the project.

The county paid $18,500 last year 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:

• 2021: Winter-critical stabilization and basement, porch roof and mansard (curved) roof restoration

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

• 2023: Courthouse roof and tower repairs

Retired Butler County Probate Judge Randy Rogers, who called the courthouse home for 20 years, has been the biggest champion of courthouse restoration and said he is thrilled.

“I’m excited that the commitment is there, monies have been allocated and the professionals are involved in terms of assessing the need,” Rogers said. “There is a plan that’s in place not only to fund it, but the mechanics on how they’re going to do it, some of the steps have already been taken place.”

The county spent $75,000 of the $4 million capital improvement budget this year for an architect to draw up the restoration plans. Chris Hacker, the county’s director of assets, procurement and projects, said realistically they probably won’t be awarding the project until mid-December, so likely the only work that will begin will be some plumbing work in the basement. Next year the main focus will be roof work.

Everyone these days is facing supply and workforce issues due to the lasting effects of the pandemic so cost overruns are a possibility. Commissioner T.C. Rogers — the judge’s big brother — said this project is so unique they might get lucky.

“All that stuff was specialized anyway and there were contingencies built into the bid, so we’ll see what they come up with. The biggest problem is that everybody that’s skilled is busy...” Rogers said adding as a builder himself he’s had both good and bad bid surprises.

“I never know until the bid is complete how it’s going to come out.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter is another staunch courthouse restoration supporter and after they appropriated the funds she asked whether the Courthouse Restoration Committee has been involved in the planning.

“It’s really important to me that the slate roof be maintained and still have the historic look and that sort of thing,” she said. “There was some funky shingles that had been put on in the past and maybe could be improved. So we are making sure the Courthouse Restoration Committee is seeing the proposed fix or repairs prior to the decision on what products are going to be used.”

County Administrator Judi Boyko assured her Hacker has kept the committee in the loop.

Although he was aged off the bench earlier this year, Rogers still visits his beloved courthouse and recently witnessed a George Jetson meets Fred Flintstone event that proves how diligent the county has been in making sure the repairs are done correctly.

“The engineers had the drones going and doing whatever it is they do, to make determinations about the façade,” Rogers said. “It was kind of neat, there were these two guys and they used drones to take pictures I guess, it’s the preliminary work so you know what the specs are for the actual repairs.”

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.

When bedbugs were discovered in the threadbare carpet in one of the rooms in the courthouse, the judge himself rented a sander and helped refurbish what turned out to be valuable wood floors.

Rogers’ favorite mantra is “save the courthouse.”

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