Retiring judge making new push for historic Butler County Courthouse renovations

The Historic Butler County Courthouse, Aug. 31, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

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The Historic Butler County Courthouse, Aug. 31, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County Probate Judge Randy Rogers has been advocating for much-needed repairs on the Historic Courthouse for many years, and now that he is being aged out of his judgeship after next year, he is redoubling his efforts.

Rogers has submitted a request for $30,000 to the Butler County Commission a study to get updated estimates for repairs to the courthouse that is home to Rogers’ court, the Area II Court and the Family Drug Treatment Court. Rogers said the 30-plus-year-old roof needs replacing, the sandstone facade hasn’t been repaired since the early 1990s and the rest of the exterior stairs need to be replaced. Some estimates place the total cost at $10 million.

“What I hope and expect will be addressed is the outer shell, because that’s just something that if you own a building you have to do that periodically,” Rogers said. “As far as the interior my hope is that some interior work will continue to be done.”

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With the county’s general fund debt dissolving at the end of next year, the commissioners all agree some of the money that will be available, about $9 million annually, should be funneled to courthouse restoration. They just differ on the amount. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter claims her fellow commissioners have pledged $2 million per year, but her colleagues disagree.

“When they came up with the 2020 plan I agreed to support it if the other two commissioners agreed to provide $2 million towards the courthouse restoration,” she told the Journal-News. “Our hope is that the budget will provide $2 million a year until such time as the courthouse is renovated and then provide enough funding a year to maintain it, because it is an iconic building in Butler County.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said he doesn’t recall pledging $2 million to courthouse restoration.

“I don’t recall that the same way,” Dixon said. “She asked if we would use some money for renovation of the courthouse, we said sure there will be some, without any specific number.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers also doesn’t believe they made a firm commitment. He said they are putting together a five-year capital improvement plan to address projects that have been on the back burner during leaner times.

“We have plans to not only maintain but correct the deferred maintenance we have on all of our properties,” Rogers said. “Within that group of course is the courthouse, which has a pronounced meaning to Butler County.”

It’s not like the county has completely ignored $30 million asset. In recent years the county spent almost $100,000 replacing the crumbling steps on the High Street side of the 130-year-old structure. There was no money in the budget to fix the rest.

RELATED: Bug problem uncovers 126-year-old treasure in Butler County building

The judge has rolled up his sleeves on at least one occasion through the years after a bug infestation was discovered the same year as the stair replacement. The threadbare carpet was torn up and underneath, contractors found what was believed to be Rookwood Pottery tile and valuable 100-plus-year-old hardwood floors.

The judge rented a sander and spent a Saturday helping to unearth the floors that were hidden for years with carpeting.

“I ended up with a guy that does work for me and we spent Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. and this is what we found,” Rogers said back then, his arm outstretched over his hardwood handiwork. “He believes this is long leaf sugar pine without any knots … it’s pretty valuable wood.”

Rogers said they have made other improvements to the interior of the courthouse, like the stained glass and lighting in rotunda, but it would be wonderful if the county could restore the historic third floor courtroom to its original condition.

“I think that if that part were restored that it would be a stop on a bus tour,” he said. “It’s that good. That would be a hope of hopes, I don’t know that it’ll happen.”

With the freed-up funds looming large on the horizon, there are many demands the commissioners must weigh. Capital improvements are just one piece of a bigger plan.

“Although ideas have been referenced, the commissioners have not discussed or directed priorities. Though the few already mentioned include advancement of economic development initiatives to invest in projects which capture a return for the county; investment in county capital infrastructure and building systems; and workforce development and investment,” County Administrator Judi Boyko said.

“It’s important to note just because the funds will be available doesn’t mean the money will be fully expended. The commissioners are committed to fiscally sound practices and expending taxpayers’ dollars responsibly.”

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