Right time to renovate courthouse, commissioners say

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(Posted June 13, 2014)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The Madison County Courthouse, built in 1890, is long overdue for a renovation. Now is the time, say the Madison County commissioners.

“We know we have a need to renovate much of the courthouse. We need direction on where we should start…and how to put together a package to put out to bid,” said Commissioner David Dhume.

The primary concern is the building’s exterior, including but not limited to issues related to the roof, masonry, gutters, metal facades and the clock tower. Inside, the nearly overloaded attic is a top priority.

Doug Hooper of Midstate Contractors met with the commissioners June 2. Based in Marion, Ohio, the company specializes in building restoration and preservation. Midstate oversaw major renovations to London First United Methodist Church and the Coover Memorial Clubhouse, both located on North Main Street not far from the courthouse. Midstate also is doing work on the courthouses in Licking and Logan counties.

“You come highly recommended… Let’s move forward,” Dhume told Hooper. Tim Wilson, a point person for renovations at the United Methodist Church, recommended Midstate.

“The timing right now is good (financially),” said Commissioner Paul Gross.

The commissioners asked Hooper to present a price quote for the assessment process by June 9.

As for what the assessment would entail, Hooper said, “We will look over the whole building first, figure out all the problems, categorize them and prioritize them, and make recommendations for repairs.”

If the commissioners accept Midstate’s quote, the assessment process will take about a month.

Midstate also can draw up specifications for bidding out recommended work, create a drawing of the building if one no longer exists, and develop a maintenance plan once the work is completed. Hooper said recommended repairs would have a 20- to 30-year lifespan.

Dhume asked Hooper if he knew of any grant funding for courthouse restorations. Hooper said he attended the Ohio County Courthouses Symposium May 15-16 in Columbus at which funding possibilities were discussed. He cautioned, however, that grants can come with restrictions that dictate material and project choices.

Gross said the county will move forward with courthouse renovations with or without grant funding.

The Courthouse Clock

Restoration and reinstallation of the courthouse tower clock is among the projects the commissioners are considering.

On May 27, Tim Wilson, a clock buff, and Phil Wright, owner of The Tower Clock Co., a restoration outfit based in South Charleston, presented a proposal for the courthouse clock project. In it, they included the history of the clock.

The original Seth Thomas clock tower was installed in 1890 when the courthouse was built. The clock mechanism was located in the clock house below the tower and the bell until the 1950s or ‘60s, when it was moved to the area inside the clock dials. At the same time, the original Seth Thomas gear assembly was replaced with a modern gear asssembly within the frame of Seth Thomas mechanism.

When a tornado hit London in 1974, the clock dials were badly damaged, especially those on the west face of the tower. The mechanism remained intact, though, and was removed by crane. It and part of one of the original clock dials was moved into the Grange Hall at the Madison County Fairgrounds where it served as a display of the Madison County Historical Society.

When the Historical Society discontinued the display, they contacted Wright, who rescued the clock. He still has many of the original parts. By combining those with parts from an identical Seth Thomas clock he rescued from another building, Wright can rebuild the clock to function as it did in 1890. The one exception would be that it will be electrically operated, solving problems with the 1974 drive unit, including out-of-time dials and sheared gears.

Wright said he can convert the entire clock set-up—from the mechanism inside to the clock faces and ornamentation outside—back to the original. His rough estimate of the cost is $80,000. He said it would take about a year to complete.

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