Butler County historic courthouse upgrades estimated at $10M

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The historic courthouse is back on Butler County commissioners' agenda.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

With the repairs on the Soldiers Sailors and Pioneers Monument complete, Butler County commissioners will turn their attention back to restoration of the historic courthouse.

It is time to reconvene the courthouse restoration committee because the 127-year-old building in downtown Hamilton needs a lot of work, according to Commissioner Cindy Carpenter.

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“We’ve been asked to reconvene the courthouse restoration committee and begin coming up with a plan for, I won’t say renovate, but upgrades and maintenance,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to put $20 million in.”

Maybe not $20 million, but County Administrator Charlie Young said renovations and repairs could cost $10 million.

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With that type of price tag, there will have to be a public/private partnership to fund the work, he said.

“Community involvement will need to occur to push that, we’ll need private partnerships to bring private money to bear as well as public money,” Young said. “That’s a monumental task to take on, something like the courthouse.”

Probate Judge Randy Rogers, who calls the courthouse home, said the first order of business is repairing the disintegrating sandstone on the exterior of the building. The roof needs replacing and there are other issues.

“In terms of priorities, I would say a priority would be addressing the issues relative to the sandstone facade,” the judge said. “That would go ahead of steps. The roof is still working, but ultimately you have to deal with those issues.”

The county spent almost $100,000 a few years ago replacing the crumbling steps on the High Street side of the building. The steps on the rest of the building are on the back burner. Rogers said a contract was let last year to fix the street level steps and ramps at the courthouse, but “winter got in the way” and the contractor was already on the monument job, so that project has been delayed.

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Carpenter has asked her fellow commissioners to earmark about $75,000 of the $1 million Clerk of Courts Mary Swain routinely returns to the general fund for courthouse restoration. Commissioner Don Dixon said he knows they have to set “some” money aside every year to tackle the job.

“It’s going to take a whole lot more money than that,” Dixon said. “I know you’ve got to start somewhere, but that money just goes to the general fund. That’s a very expensive project to take on… We’ll get to it… It’s next in line.”

The county is expecting next year’s budget to be challenging due to a $3.1 million budget hole with the loss of Medicaid Managed Care sales tax. However, the commissioners have been on a steady path toward financial health after almost falling off the proverbial fiscal cliff during the Great Recession.

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The county has socked away $6 million in a rainy day fund and had $38 million cash on hand to start this year, which is a $9 million increase over the 2016 beginning balance.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said utilization of the building has to be a consideration when money is involved.

“Part of it is utilization,” Rogers said. “Part of the justification I think is if it could be utilized more, there’s still some courtrooms and rooms that could be converted back.”

Actually there are new tenants moving in soon. Juvenile Court Magistrate Pat Wilkerson is expected to begin dedicating a half-day docket each week to the new family drug court cases on June 29.

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Carpenter said she hopes to reconvene the restoration committee this fall.

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