Historic Butler County Courthouse renovation continues with façade and window work

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Building is more than 130 years old.

Butler County commissioners have approved another $1.5 million as part of the phased project to shore up the iconic Historic Courthouse in downtown Hamilton.

The approved contract with NR Lee Restoration is the second phase of the $4.6 million project and work will commence when Phase 1 is finished this spring.

The first phase of the three-phase project cost $1.65 million and work started last year to replace the roofing systems, namely the slate roof and adjoining gutter systems and the flat roofs and repairs to basement plumbing and the chimney.

The county received seven bids for the second phase that range from $1.2 million to $3.3 million. Lee had the low bid, and because it came in below estimates, County Administrator Judi Boyko said they were able to add to the contract continuing work on the building façade — including the other three sides of the crumbling steps — and roof replacement.

The add-on to the contract involves much-needed window repairs, something Commissioner Cindy Carpenter was advocating.

ExploreHistoric Courthouse restoration on budget and on schedule

“I’m excited we’re moving forward on the courthouse,” Carpenter said. “It was important to repair the damaged and aging windows as part of this project. I’m glad my fellow commissioners agreed to do so.”

The final phase, a continuation of exterior restoration, “will be an ongoing project for the next several years,” Boyko said.

The commissioners promised for years to tend to the deteriorating building and made good on it in 2020, hiring 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 132-year-old building.

The report indicated 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 read. “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:

• Phase 1: Basement, porch roof, and mansard roof restoration

• Phase 2: Façade and roof replacement

• Phase 3: Courthouse roof and tower 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 now retired Probate Court Judge Randy Rogers — who called the place home for decades — himself rented a sander and helped refurbish what turned out to be valuable wood floors.

Rogers’ favorite mantra has always been “save the courthouse.”

Carpenter, Rogers and others have campaigned for a full restoration, inside and out, but only the exterior work is on the immediate horizon. An old estimate from several years ago for full restoration — including the current project — was upwards of $10 million.

“I’ve advocated for the courthouse renovation for over 20 years and I will continue to do so,” Carpenter said. “Once we move past the exterior it’s time we look at the interior which has not been touched since the early 1980s. That’ll be the next initiative of the Courthouse Restoration Committee.”

Boyko told the commissioners this week she plans to bring in the architect-of-record and project administrator to give them an update on the project soon.

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