After the Fire
rely on experts
to guide restoration effort
considered a challenging project
(July 2009) For a week in late May, area residents
watched in amazement as the 1855 Jefferson County Courthouse burned,
then smoldered for several days, then became the focus of an all-out
cleanup effort. During a June 8 press conference at Madison City Hall,
Fire Chief Steve Horton announced the cause of the fire to be accidental
and caused by a worker with a blow torch who caught the copper downspouts
above the north door frame on fire. The fire quickly spread under the
eave and up to the belltower, engulfing the cupola.
In the immediate days and weeks after the fire, workers from several
companies worked tirelessly to remove from the building important documents,
furniture, smoke- and water-damaged items and asbestos from the floor
tiles and acoustic materials located on the third floor.
While the excitement has now died down and the spectators have gone
home, the work continues at the site. A sense of urgency exists among
county officials to move quickly on starting the long restoration effort
it will take to get the building under roof and protected from rain
and weather. As of late June, that effort included a decision to install
a temporary water-collection membrane over the roof to protect
it from further damage.
While those efforts have been led by the three-person Jefferson County
Commission Julie Berry, Tom Pietrykowski and Mark Cash
dozens of technical advisors, insurance adjusters and contractors have
helped guide the process along. The commission has met almost weekly
since the May 20 fire that broke out on the roof and engulfed the 150-year-old
belltower and destroyed the roof over the third-floor Circuit Courtroom.
Firefighters from more than 15 local and neighboring departments were
able to extinguish the flames in time to save the building from complete
The 24,000-pound belltower, which began to lean southward
in the immediate days after the fire, was cut in half and removed the
top half during late afternoon thunderstorm on May 28. The next morning,
workers carefully removed the 3,118-pound bell from the belltower and
placed into storage. At that point, on Friday, May 29, the commissioners
were anxious to get inside Judge Ted Todds heavily damaged courtroom
but were halted by state environmental officials who reported the existence
of asbestos there. It took two more weeks to hire a company and remove
the asbestos. That work ended in mid-June, allowing the commissioners
to explore their options for covering the roof of the building before
On June 19, the commissioners met to consider bids for
a temporary roof that might be put on the building to buy some time
while the full restoration is designed and approved. But when the bids
came in ranging from $470,000 to $1.47 million, the commissioners balked
at spending so much on a temporary roof, only to have to come back later
and remove it and install a permanent one.
We were surprised by that cost, so we decided to move right into
a permanent roof and leave a spot for the dome to be added later,
Berry said in a June 26 interview.
The commission has been told it could take up to eight months to construct
a new dome, and companies in Campbellsville, Ky., and Iowa have expressed
interest in the job.
At press time on June 29, the commissions next step was to accept
three bids for a demolition crew to remove the remaining timbers and
roof pieces down to the ceiling level of the third floor. That work
should render the building safe for construction crews who will then
come in later to do the full building renovation.
Right now, it is not safe up there; there are still pieces of
ceiling hanging and it all needs to be cleaned up, Commissioner
Pietrykowski said at the meeting.
That bid, due by July 9, will include installing the water-diverting
It wont be fail-safe, but it will be effective in channeling
a good deal of water outside, said Steve Bruns, group manager
for investigative services at American StructurePoint Inc., based in
Indianapolis. The county commission retained StructurePoint at the outset
of the fire recovery effort to provide architectural advice.
In an ongoing effort to dry out the building, the doors and windows
are opened almost daily, Berry said. The contents have been removed
but the ceilings of the first and second floors are water-damaged, and
the plaster will likely have to be replaced, Bruns said.
The commission, meanwhile, also plans to accept bids from firms for
the entire exterior and interior Courthouse renovation. StructurePoint
also plans to bid on the renovation work, Bruns said.
by Don Ward
photo of the third floor Circuit
Courtroom were taken May 29, just an
hour after the bell and final belltower
section were removed from the roof.
While bids for the work are being sought, the commission
has appointed three people to serve on an advisory board to help review
the bids and help select the company to do the work. The three advisory
board members are Joe Craig, a longtime County Councilman, Al Huntington,
the 13-year former Madison mayor, and John Staicer, executive director
of Historic Madison Inc. Staicer has attended all of the post-fire emergency
and regular commission meetings and has been advising the board on technical
issues relating to historic preservation historic of significant courthouse
property recovered from the fire.
They are part of a non-voting, advisory panel to help us sort
through the bids and make the right decision, Berry said. All
considerations will be made by the panel in public meetings, she added.
When the renovation is completed, Berry said the exterior of the Courthouse
should look almost exactly as it did prior to the fire. She hopes the
renovation will, however, include improvements to such things as energy
efficiency and code issues. Berry has been told by contractors it could
take 18 months or more to complete the work.
Throughout the post-fire process, the commissioners have been fortunate
in that they have received free expert advice from a number of knowledgeable
sources from right here in Madison. In addition to HMIs Staicer,
Madison resident Link Ludington has attended the meetings and lent his
advice. A former curator for the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site,
Ludington is now an architectural historian for the Indiana Department
of Natural Resources State Museum and Historic Sites Division.
Ludington in 1998 completed an in-depth historical study of the Courthouses
construction history and paint schemes.
by Don Ward
(from left) Julie Berry and Mark Cash,
with attorney Wil Goering, listen to a
report from a contractor during a
Terry Wullenweber also has aided the commission with expert
advice on plaster. His company, Wullenweber and Son, specializes in
restoration work and plaster and has recently completed ceiling medallion
projects at New Albanys Culbertson Mansion and Auroras Hillforest.
Wullenweber, of Versailles, Ind., has been retained by the county to
remove the decorative plaster cornice and crown moldings that lined
the ceilings of the third floor courtroom. They had been hidden from
view for years by a drop ceiling.
Wullenweber has carefully stored the cornice pieces offsite and will
use them to make molds for the restoration of the third floor. He is
hoping the renovation will allow the decorative moldings to be seen
this time, but that decision, which rests with the commission, may ultimately
be based on cost.
Bruns said that removing such architecture is important regardless
of whether they are replicated and replaced in the building in the future.
They become part of the countys history, and if you dont
save them, that part of your history is lost.
Another example of that history was two gas light fixtures that hung
near the third floor courtroom ceiling and were discovered in the process
of removing the ceiling cornices. They had been hidden from view by
the drop ceiling. Staicer said the fixtures have been placed in storage
as part of the buildings historical collection.
by Don Ward
of pieces of
the decorative plaster cornices from the ceiling
of the third floor
courtroom of the
Courthouse have been preserved by plaster
plans to make molds
of the patterns to be
used in replicating
the cornices and placed
back into the building.
Perhaps ironically, a new state advisory commission established
by state statute last year and met for the first time earlier this year,
sent architecture and engineering experts to Madison to conduct a technical
study of the building. This free advice arrived in the form of a report
issued in June by engineer Fritz Herget of ARSEE Engineers in Fishers,
Ind., and architect Ron Ross of Martin-Riley Architects in Fort Wayne,
Ind. They are two of 12 members of the newly formed Indiana Courthouse
Preservation Advisory Commission. Its mission is to assist county officials
as they make decisions on how to rehabilitate and preserve the more
than 80 historic county courthouses across the state. The members were
appointed by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Chief Justice Randall Shepard
of the Indiana Supreme Court. Shepard serves as the chairperson.
Hergets report to the Jefferson County Commissioners noted that
the dome and remaining roof structure, as well as the upper portion
of the exterior walls, were unstable and needed to be stabilized or
removed. Fire damage below the third floor had been limited by a concrete
and steel floor inserted in the 1960s.
Ross report cited deterioration of some of the plaster details
in the third story due to exposure and the potential of some plaster
ceilings to fail. He provided photo illustrations of plaster damage
and architectural details in the lower stories that could be salvaged
Both Herget and Ross provided to the commission with recommendations
on how to approach rehabilitation of specific details of the building.
Berry said the report will be helpful to workers who are eventually
hired to do the renovation.
Contacted by telephone in late June, Ross said , As a person who
has a deep interest in historic preservation, I was pleased to see efforts
that had been made in preservation throughout Madison, and I would assume
those same efforts would be applied to the Courthouse. The building
has been well cared for and I feel confident the same sensibility will
be applied to the Courthouse.
The cast bronze bell, meanwhile, that was lifted out the fire-ravaged
belltower on May 29 and placed for a day on Main Street for the public
to see may or may not be returned to the top of the Courthouse, Berry
said. It has been placed in storage and must be cleaned at some point
by a company that specializes in such work, Staicer said.
Berry said it would depend on cost as to whether the bell will be returned
to the future belltower or placed on permanent display in the Courthouse
lawn. The bell and clock had not worked for many years. The clock mechanism
did not operate and had been stored in the Courthouse basement.
by Don Ward
franchise guided the
Some parts of the clock faces have been salvaged and taken
to the Jefferson County Historical Society to be placed into a permanent
exhibit there (See story on bell and clock, Page 21).
In other action by the commission, bids have been collected to renovate
the former Eagles building, which the county purchased in 2002 for $150,350
and sits just across the Jefferson Street from the Courthouse. With
a limited budget of only $150,000 from the insurance company, the commissioners
plan to hire a firm to build new offices there for the county and courts.
In early 2007, two bids received for renovating that building each topped
County offices are temporary located on the second floor of the MainSource
Bank building, where they have been offered free rent for two years.
Superior Court is being held at Judge Alison Fraziers office on
Second Street, while Todds Circuit Court and office have been
relocated at the Madison Area Chamber-owned Venture Out Business Center
on the hilltop. But county computer technicians say the distance between
these offices has made it difficult to network the computers and are
urging the county to consolidate the office at the Eagles building until
the Courthouse renovation is complete.
As all of this is going on in Madison, the paper documents, files and
historical records were removed from the Courthouse and freeze-dried
in a storage building near Detroit. A bus-load of local officials from
various offices traveled to Detroit in June to sort through the documents
to determine which ones were worth saving. By doing so, they hope to
reduce the cost of the salvage operation, since recovery of such documents
The estimate to save, freeze and restore the more than 8,000 cubic feet
of documents taken from the Courthouse approaches $600,000.
Overall, the commission and its attorney, Wil Goering, have steadily
guided the recovery and restoration process along, but Berry admits,
Its been pretty rough. Asked if she could recall any
more challenging time or issue that she has faced during her tenure
on the commission, she quickly replied: CAFO.
She was referring to the previous conflicts that emerged during the
countys governance of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
At least this time, we have insurance money to do the work and
the public is behind us. Everyone has been very cordial and helpful
and supportive throughout this entire recovery process, and we will
get through it and get our Courthouse back the way it was, if not better,
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