Turning back time

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Work continues on county’s old courthouse, new judicial center

By The Staff

By Jeff Moreland


Editor/General Manager

Time is always on the move, and it usually passes quickly. But in the cases of the old Washington County Courthouse and the new Washington County Judicial Center, time is moving in two very different directions these days.

The old courthouse

Built in 1816, the Washington County Courthouse currently houses the offices of the county and circuit clerks, as well as hosting judicial activity in its cozy little courtroom. Soon, those activities will change, and the circuit clerk’s office, as well as trials and other courtroom activity, will make their way across the street to the new judicial center. Those will move because they are branches of Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts. The county clerk’s office will remain in the old courthouse because it is a county official, and the new building, which is being built solely with state funds, can only be occupied by state offices. Even the Washington County Sheriff, who is responsible for security in the new building, is not permitted to have office space in the state-operated judicial center.

With some of the offices vacated, the old courthouse will be taking on a new look, or in this case, an old look. Currently, contractors are busy doing work on the tuck pointing, which is the mortar between the bricks on the exterior of the building. When the courthouse was constructed, local materials were used, and the mortar and bricks were made locally. That mortar, in comparison to the mortar used in new buildings today, was much softer and reacted differently when it set up.

“They chip out so much of the mortar with a hammer and tools by hand. When they use other tools, they have a vacuum attachment that helps them cut down on the dust. It is very time consuming and very labor intensive,” said Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles as he explained the process. “They have to use a different mortar that is like that from the time period when the courthouse was built. If you use modern mortar, it hardens quicker and to a very hard consistency. It could, and in other buildings has, popped the face off of the bricks. I’ve seen this in other examples across the state. So you have to use an exact mortar that is soft according to today’s standards and fits the time period of the original building.”

That tuck pointing work, along with new windows that will be just like the originals, are being funded as part of grants awarded to the Washington County Fiscal Court and Springfield’s Main Street Renaissance program operated by Nell Haydon. The grant was for a total of about $135,000, and covers the tuck pointing, as well as restoring the windows.

“The windows will not look like they do now,” Settles said. “According to old photos, the original windows were paned windows, so the Kentucky Historical Society encouraged us to go all the way back and put the original style windows in. Even though they’ve been there many years, the windows we have now are not original, so we’re going to go back to a window that will mimic the original windows, and of course will be a lot more energy efficient.”

Settles said the tuck pointing is more than 50 percent complete, but the window project has not yet started. The windows are in possession of the contractors, but Settles said work will likely be put on hold until after the upcoming Kentucky Crossroads Harvest Festival, which takes place in downtown Springfield near the courthouse.

The old paint on the bricks of the courthouse has also been removed as part of the project, and the bricks are taking on a natural look, which reflect their appearance at the time of the courthouse’s construction nearly 200 years ago.

An additional grant of $100,000 has been applied for by the fiscal court, and if received, that money will be used for interior work on the courthouse. Settles said the upstairs of the old courthouse has had walls added over the years, and the money would help restore the building to its original form. Also, it will help fund work on the courtroom, which is planned to be used as a museum to the Abraham Lincoln legacy in Washington County.

The new judicial center

It has a total price tag of $11.8 million, and the new judicial center will be a showplace for Washington County when completed. When it will be completed, however, is a question that is still hard to answer.

“Right now, we are told it should be done Jan. 15,” Settles said. He added that the project was originally slated to be finished Sept. 26, but that has been pushed back almost since work began. Some utilities had to be relocated to allow construction to begin, and that delayed things early on, as well as some weather-related delays that arose later in 2007.

“We were off schedule from day one because of the utilities,” he said. “We’ve only had in the low 30s as far as weather-related days, and we have been delayed 78 days total. Most of that was the utilities. We haven’t had any delays lately, however, the completion date has been consistently moved back, and Jan. 15 is the date as of now.”

With the building well under roof and most of the remaining work being indoors, Settles said the outdoor work will still be an issue to deal with as cooler weather approaches.

“We’ve still got all the front courtyard, the sidewalks down both sides, the main parking lot in the back and the realignment of Ballard Street. All of that is outside work, it’s almost the first of October, and we don’t know what the weather is going to be.”