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Crowd Learns about Historic Courthouse Renovation to Begin Late Summer
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Courthouse tour image"The iconic parts of this building must remain ‘historic.’ We’re not going back to 1914-15. We want to maintain the bones of this courthouse,” architect Paul Bonsall told a crowd of more than 100 Saturday morning as he presented a slide show of changes to be made during the renovation of this county’s 100-year-old courthouse.

"This building can’t be expanded. We’re trapped by the roads around the courthouse,” Bonsall pointed out as he spoke about what will be done with $4 million in taxpayers’ funds to "modernize” the structure, make it secure and return the two-second floor courtrooms to one as it was when opened in 1915.

One of the major changes will be to funnel all entering traffic to the south side, eliminating the entrance on the north side. Exits for the public will be on the south, east and west sides. The northern side will be used as an entrance and exit for the district attorney’s staff, the only court functioning group to be housed in the renovated building.

The tour was sponsored by the Reuben Brown House Preservation Group, and hosted by several members.Guests included former clerk of court Sheila Pridgen, Registrar of Deeds Kandance Bullock, former magistrate and sheriff ’s deputy Mac Ward, Sheriff Lewis Hatcher, and former judges Lewis Sauls, William Wood and Bill Gore.
Restricted Stairwell
Both stairwells from the first to second floor will be cut from the present 14 feet to 12 feet, and this will be done by putting a two-foot riser on the lobby floor leading to a 12-foot set of stairs. A bannister will be placed in the middle of both stairwells to cut down on possible falls. The present stairwell on the east side of the lobby will be the only way – other than a small elevator – for the public to reach the second floor.

Courthouse tour image2The stairwell on the west side will continue to be restricted to court officials, staff and prisoners. On the south entrance, the elevated platform just before entering will be removed, and an entrance for handicapped persons will be added to the southeast side, complete with a lift for wheelchairs.

The present red tile chips and blocks of tile that cover the south entrance all the way to the road curb will be replaced with a non-skid type of covering. All windows in the present courthouse will be maintained, and repaired. No new glass is proposed.
Ramp Removal
The two false ceilings on the second floor will be removed, and some skylights returned to the roof to provide more natural light to the expanded courtroom.

Chandeliers similar to those in the original courtroom will be installed, and it’s possible some modern LED lights will be used, but the high-cost of these lighting systems will restrict installation to just a few, if any.

The present handicapped brick and concrete handicapped ramp on the northwest side of the courthouse will be removed.

In this area will be a massive part of the revamped heating and cooling system, which will be screened from the circle roadway. The present small Vietnam War memorial on the northwest corner will not be disturbed.

The present District Courtroom which seats 127 and the present Superior Courtroom, seating almost 175, will be combined with the judge’s bench at the south end, as it was when it was originally built to architect Joseph Leitner’s design.
Sagging Floor
The second floor area where the floor sags – on the west side – will be strengthened, and a supporting beam, removed at an unknown time years ago is to be replaced. Nearly all the dark wall panels in the two existing courtrooms will be removed, and the walls will have more of a "period” look, which will be white or light colored.

Courthouse tour image3Bonsall said the 100-yearold roof that was originally designed to have a dome, is "in extremely good shape. Transoms above most of the doors, used to allow hot air to move out of the rooms, will be maintained to keep the historic appearance of the building.

Public restrooms will be installed on the first floor. Now there are none, and public restrooms on the second floor will be expanded. The large existing windows are not energy efficient, and they will be re-glazed to stop the entrance of outside air and allow inside air to escape.
Sprinkler System
A sprinkler system will be installed. It’s not required, but needed to help preserve the building in case of a fire. There has never been a fire that destroyed any county records in any of the three courthouses, dating back to 1809-10.

Bonsall said the old boiler system in the basement on the west side is "historic.” The machinery is in great shape, and could be used to heat another historic building in another county or state, and will be offered for sale through historic preservation publications.

The architect noted there is an asbestos product on the underside of the floor tile on the first floor, and this will be removed. Most of the new lobby and flooring in existing offices will be the original hardwood flooring. Some of the hardwood flooring will need to be covered with carpet to muffle the loud noise of foot traffic on wood.
Replace Wiring
Bonsall said almost all the wiring in the building is outdated, and needs to be replaced. The three mechanical handling units – now outside on the northeast, southeast and southwest sides, will be removed and replaced by the larger unit to be installed on the northwest side and fenced from view.

The boxwoods and other plants will be maintained, and Bonsall suggested moving the several pieces of granite statues noting historical facts to one location, as yet undetermined.

He again mentioned the large glass windows on both floors of the courthouse, and noted historic preservation officials "want to keep them,” and this will be done.

Bonsall said he expects the present courthouse to be cleared of personnel, furniture and equipment by early June.

Advertising of bids to do the restoration work has not begun, and figures it will take 60 to 90 days, thus putting a starting point for the restoration at late this year, or early 2016.

The $4 million work is scheduled to be done within 13 to 14 months. If the timetable is even close to the projection, the renovated building will probably open in the spring of 2017.

By Bob High

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published March 30, 2015 in The News Reporter www.Whiteville.com

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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