The Butler County commissioners approved an in-depth study into how to fix problems that have plagued the iconic Historic Courthouse in Hamilton.
The county has hired THP Limited, Inc., a Cincinnati structural engineering and design firm, for $18,500 to survey the courthouse and recommend the best course of action for restoring the 131-year-old treasure. The original estimate for the work was $37,000. Six bids came in, and the highest was $42,500.
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, who has long advocated for fully restoring the structure, said the study is necessary and overdue.
“The expert evaluation is necessary because we need to make the repairs to the courthouse in the proper order,” Carpenter said. “So we’re not going back and spending more money to fix something that should have been fixed second or third. There is the belief that the roof needs to be fixed first.”
The plan developed some urgency recently when patchwork pieces of the building started falling off. The courthouse is home for Butler County Judge Randy Rogers’ Probate Court, and he is retiring this year, another factor that helped push the project along. He has been a leading advocate for improving the courthouse.
It is unclear how much money there will be to get started on the projects the consulting firm recommends, but Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he fully expects Randy Rogers, his brother, to lobby for as much as possible. The county’s budget was looking more robust before the coronavirus slowdown, and even though sales tax receipts have been better than expected, spending plans have remained conservative.
“I can assure that because my brother is retiring from a judge he will have more time to convince us to spend money on that courthouse,” Rogers said.
There has not been a comprehensive needs assessment on the building and cost estimates are old. Several years ago, Randy Rogers said it would cost almost $1 million to make necessary courthouse repairs. The estimate for installing new steps all around the building was about $200,000. Shoring up the flaking sandstone facade was another $200,000, and the price for a new roof was about $500,000. Rogers said he doesn’t know how valid those prices are today.
Several years ago, officials estimated it could cost $10 million to fully restore the structure inside and out.
Despite troubling financial times the commissioners still intend to pay off the general fund debt this year, freeing up about $10 million annually for capital projects and economic development endeavors.
The judge said his brother is correct, since he won’t be with the county in an official capacity anymore “the gag order is off,” he joked. He said the county is in an enviable position financially thanks to the county commissioners and other elected officials, so he is confident his beloved courthouse will get the funding it needs.
“I have complete confidence in the county commission, they have many difficult decisions to make but as it relates to the courthouse and the county in general, I think Butler County is doing very well in spite of all the circumstances that we’re facing,” Rogers said. “I really believe that Butler County is going to do well in years to come and that’s a good thing for the courthouse and all the projects.”
According to the contract with THP Limited crews will begin surveying the building Aug. 31, from the roof to the foundation — work that includes rappelling off the sides of the building to get an up close look at the columns, sandstone and other exterior features. The final report will be published Oct. 27.