New steps may prompt more renovations at historic building

Butler County Probate Court Judge Randy Rogers intended to tie a big red bow on the Historic Courthouse steps when they were supposed to be completed at Christmastime, on Tuesday he had a big ear-to-ear grin on his face as he stood on the new steps to his courthouse.

“I’m excited about the whole thing, I think they look great,” Rogers said. “These steps have been such an eyesore for so many years, and now they look great.”

Bulldozers began tearing out the old crumbling steps on the High Street side of the 100-plus year old courthouse in September, then the time table said the completely restored steps would be ready by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and almost Easter passed with the $91,994 steps still under construction.

There are a few clean-up and sealing activities still to be done but the railing went up last week and the steps have been declared done, according to Randy Quisenberry, the county’s asset, purchasing and project director.

“I’m ecstatic with the performance that was displayed in the last 45 days of the project,” Quisenberry said. “We got off to a slow start, and then we had a lot of bad weather in February, we had a lot of snow on the ground. But when they could get out here and work they had a sizable crew out here and if they had to start from scratch, they started from scratch.”

Shawn Coon, with Coon Restoration and Sealants Inc. near Canton, wouldn’t talk much about the problems they faced, though he did say they had issues with a subcontractor.

“We were able to find a reliable contractor eventually here, that kind of helped us save the day,” he said.

Replacing the steps is not the only work that is needed on the $30 million asset. The judge said overall it will cost almost $1 million to fully restore the courthouse. The estimate for installing new steps all around the building was about $200,000. Shoring up the flaking sandstone facade is another $200,000, and eventually, a new roof will be needed, with a price tag of about $500,000.

The step project was actually delayed once before. The county was about to embark on this project in the fall of 2013 using a “design-build” model that has relatively recently become available to governments. Under the method, the county could choose a contractor who would be in charge of everything from designing the structure to construction. Quisenberry said the prosecutor’s office advised the commissioners couldn’t use the method so they went out to bid.

Last year Commissioner Cindy Carpenter suggested the county take $75,000 out of the excess title revenues the commissioners routinely receive from Clerk of Courts Mary Swain and put it toward the restoration project. The restored steps won’t be used to enter the building — the entrance with security screening is on the west side of the building — but maintaining what she called “an icon” is worthy of funding.

Carpenter could not be reached for comment but Commissioner Don Dixon said the courthouse and the monument are both buildings that need extensive funding — the commissioners just committed $250,000 of block grant money for the monument — and they will find a way to address the funding needs.

“There is a bigger problem to be solved there and we’ve got a lot of needs, of course they are getting less as the county gets better (financially),” he said. “The commissioners, we’re the ones that are going to have to step up and fund the plan and solve the ongoing maintenance problems. There will be money, it’s just going to be a little bit longer.”

Rogers said they will hold a celebration showcasing the courthouse on Law Day, May 1. The historic courthouse will still be standing when the Government Services Center is torn down, according to Rogers, because they just don’t build buildings like they did in the 1800s anymore. Quoting the now deceased Ohio Chief Justice Tom Moyer, Rogers said it is fitting that courthouses be so majestic.

“Each courthouse in our 88 counties is more than a symbol. They are the embodiment of the civic commitment to the human spirit. The courthouse is the laboratory of our great experiment in democracy…,” Moyer said. “The columns, the domes, the steps, the judge’s bench, and clock towers. They are more than design elements or architectural details…together, they are part of a building that represents law, justice and a civilized society.”

About the Author