to fire at Jefferson
County Courthouse illustrates
work of advisory group
commission seeks to
preserve historic courthouses
(March 2011) Within hours of the devastating
Jefferson County Courthouse fire on May 20, 2009, help was on its way
from Indianas newly formed Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission.
As County Commissioner Julie Berry remembers it, Greg Sekula of Historic
Landmarks Foundation of Indiana reached her by cell phone the evening
of the fire. As Berry walked on Main Street from the still-smoldering
Courthouse to City Hall for the first of several emergency meetings,
Sekula explained that the state had formed a commission to assist counties
with preservation of their historic Courthouse buildings. Berry said
Jefferson County would be grateful for some technical assistance.
Sekula made a few phone calls, and the next day Fritz Herget and Ron
Ross arrived on the scene. Herget serves on the Courthouse Commission
as a professional engineer and Ross as a professional architect.
by Don Ward
prepare the site to pour
concrete for a new elevator to be
built on the south side of the
Jefferson County Courthouse.
They actually went up in the lift we had to give
us some advice about what kind of immediate work we needed, recalls
Berry. The first concern was the precarious lean of the dome and bell
tower, which threatened nearby people and buildings.
Herget and Ross gave technical advice on how to stabilize the structure.
Their advice was free to the county. They stayed on the job several
days, until the county could hire its own professional staff to supervise
the Courthouse project.
The Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission was established in 2008
by the Indiana General Assembly. Its first quarterly meeting was in
April 2009, just weeks before the Jefferson County Courthouse fire.
Service on the commission is voluntary. It is chaired by Indiana Supreme
Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and staffed by employees of the
Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Historic Landmarks
Foundation. One of its ex-officio members is Madisons David Terrell,
director of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
The purpose of the commission is two-fold, according to Jim Glass, director
of the Indiana Department of Natural Resourcess Division of Historic
Preservation and Archeology.
First, the commission offers technical assistance to counties facing
various types of issues with their courthouse, from crumbling masonry
and leaky roofs to more serious structural issues. Help in the aftermath
of the Jefferson County Courthouse fire is the most dramatic example
of this type of technical assistance to date.
Second, the commission is charged with preparing a report for the General
Assembly on the value of Indianas historic county courthouses
to their communities and counties, the condition of the 84 historic
courthouses, the priorities for rehabilitation, preservation and restoration
of the structures, and the needs of county officials as they maintain
their courthouses and plan for the future.
To help with this second project, the commission has retained the services
of Ratio Architects of Indianapolis.
Ratio will analyze information already gathered by the Courthouse Commission
from county commissioners, county judges and site visits by the staff
of the Indiana Landmarks Foundation.
Ratio will also gather information on funding sources for courthouse
preservation projects, the importance of preserving historic courthouses
to the history and identity of county seat communities and their counties,
and the importance of preserving courthouses to the economic revitalization
of county seat communities and counties.
The results of the analysis and research will be compiled into the report
and the commission will use it to develop findings and recommendations.
The report will be delivered to the General Assembly in August. Glass
expects it to be a useful reference source for county officials.
Berry said county officials can submit copies of their courthouse building
plans as part of this documentation effort. After the Jefferson County
Courthouse fire, county officials were unable to locate copies of the
building plans, which were stored inside the structure. That hampered
the restoration effort until an off-site copy was located.
The Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission is designed to be a
temporary commission. Its work will conclude in 2012.
One of the commissions 12 members now is Jefferson County Commission
Berry. She serves as a representative of the Indiana Association of
County Commissioners, of which she is president.
Im pretty sure I got appointed just because I have experience
with courthouse fires, said Berry with a rueful laugh.
The county commissioner members have been very enthusiastic and
that has helped, said Glass. He said the response to the commissions
requests for courthouse information has been really fine.
Glass acknowledged that Madison and Jefferson County place a special
value on historic preservation.
It would be almost unthinkable for Jefferson County to vote to demolish
its historic courthouse, as Randolph County did in 2005.
Glass said opposition to that decision formed right away. A group of
elderly women from Farmland decided to show their opposition in a bold
way, with a calendar girl project. They posed for the camera
tastefully, as Glass puts it, but with no visible clothing.
Replicas of the endangered courthouse were strategically positioned
to allow the ladies some modesty.
The Courthouse Girls, as they came to be called, turned
public sentiment around. Ultimately, due to a lot of advocacy
in the community, that decision (to demolish the courthouse) was reversed,
Meanwhile, Jefferson County is making good progress toward restoring
its 156-year-old Courthouse.
All the first floor window frames are repaired and back on site, said
HGC Constructions project manager Charlie Cravens at a progress
meeting Feb. 18. These windows were original to the building and were
considered architecturally significant. Installation of these original
windows is to start soon, Cravens said.
Commissioner Tom Pietrykowski joked, Maybe people will quit asking,
Are those Lowes windows staying? Both Pietrykowski
and Berry said they have had numerous concerned phone calls about the
temporary windows that have been in place.
The second and third floors will get new windows, replacing windows
installed during the 1960s courthouse remodeling.
Other signs of progress include:
Window lintels have been replaced on all three floors.
The foundation walls for the elevator enclosure were being poured,
with the help of a large concrete pump parked in the alley. The elevator
shaft and stairwells are to be installed in an addition to the back
of the courthouse, directly opposite the Main Street door. To allow
access to the elevator, each floor of the Courthouse will have a north-south
hallway intersecting the main hallway. Three exterior windows were removed
to make way for the elevator addition.
The old elevator has been removed. A closet for computer servers
will be added on the second floor, in the location of the old elevator.
Floor joists that needed replacing have been finished.
Partition walls have been framed on the third floor and half
of the second floor.
Plaster patching is in progress on the third floor.
Work is continuing on plumbing and mechanical systems.
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