Building restoration specialist advises to save deteriorating Logan County Courthouse dome

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[May 14, 2019] 


On Monday, May 13, the Logan County Board held a special meeting to discuss updates on plans for repairs to the courthouse dome.

At a special meeting on Monday, May 6th, the board voted to approve $2,500 for studies on what needs to be done.

Rainfall on Wednesday May 1 caused issues on the third floor including debris falling through the tiles. Though Servpro [Restoration and Repair Services] put in fans and dehumidifiers to dry out the carpet the rain continued, and when court began its session that Thursday, more debris came through the ceiling, narrowly missing the State’s Attorney and Court Officer.

An assessment by structural engineers from architectural firm Dewberry found the courthouse dome is leaking and causing the original plaster ceiling, insulation and tiles to become saturated.

Logan County Sheriff Mark Landers said the plaster is so saturated, the rebar inside is starting to rust causing expansion issues, which contributes to plaster falling. Moisture saturated into the plaster above the drop ceiling has damaged the plaster and causes it to fall.

Leaks get behind the paneling and walls, and buckets and tarps control some of them, but water finds its way out around the edges. Landers said there is a need to keep water out and control water coming in from the dome and other areas on the roof.

After last week’s special meeting, Board member Dave Blankenship (interim building and grounds committee chairman) sought an industry professional because he said it is imperative that a project of this magnitude be undertaken in a highly organized structure.

At the special meeting Monday, May 13, board members and several county employees heard from Bill Walter, a building restoration specialist who owns Masonry Restoration Technologies and Services in Lima, Ohio.

Like his father before him, Walter has been in the restoration business for many years. He works to get buildings back to what they once were. Walter works nationwide and projects have included the Indiana State Capitol Building, Ellis Island, The Federal Reserve Bank, Hancock Building, Providence Hospital and the Wrigley Building. He has also worked on four courthouse projects in the last two years.

In addition to extensive education and certifications, he holds numerous professional affiliations. Walter is part of Presidents Advisory Council on Masonry Restoration and once won the Architectural Tucker Award, a United States Best Stone Restoration Project given for the Indiana State Capitol Building Presidents Advisory Council on Masonry Restoration.

Walter said Blankenship contacted him about a unique courthouse with minor, major and perplexing issues and they discussed whether there is a direction that can be taken to put the courthouse back in serviceable condition.

Walter took a tour of both the insider and outside of the courthouse and went up to the dome area to get an idea of what problems he is looking it and said the structure of the dome has great bones. He also looked at the steps, sandstone and windows to get an idea of what is needed.

The courthouse was built at a time when contractors thought it had to last forever, so they put quality and time into it. Walter said contractors had to put more thought into work when they did not have the technology we do today, and people took great pride in craftsmanship. He said it a beautiful building and the pride in craftmanship shows.

Because of the quality, the courthouse is still standing. Walter said, “The sandstone is in tremendous condition,” but salt put down in the wintertime seeping in has caused some problems.

Walter said the steel is impressive combined with the concrete, masonry and all the other details. However, he is not sure why the copper dome is covered with fiberglass. The condition of the fiberglass, however many coats of paint have been added and repairs to the failing fiberglass, are allowing leaks to get inside and has stained the third-floor ceiling.

Derrick Haynes, who does maintenance at the courthouse, has set up a water capturing system that slows down the water getting into the courthouse, but it can only help for so long.

The dome has many issues, so Walter said a maintenance program is needed for it. Walter looks at old buildings and after a thorough investigation that takes several days, comes up with a prescription for repair. He lists everything needed, explains why something is a problem and tells what it will take to repair the problem in addition to what problems may cause other problems.

Walter said he would not know how complicated it might be until he explores the dome further, but the material stopping leaks is like putting plastic on a ceiling. It addresses the problem but will only keep things dry for about a month.

If Walter is chosen to do restoration, he would literally take the building apart from a sustenance standpoint and look at what is and is not working properly, then determine what it will take to put it back into a serviceable position. Walter said he would look at costs and priorities and discuss whether the project should be done in phases.

As a preservationist, Walter said he has the interest of the building at heart and said he would listen, look and determine what the building needs.

There have also been some issues with the ceramic tile floors cracking. Walter said concrete constantly shrink while brick expands. The combination can cause problems over time.

From his initial review, Walter said the climate control may be subpar and cause the tremendous swings in humidity that causes the materials to either expand or shrink.

[Walter's initial visit and assessment was done at no charge to the county.]

Walter said he believes the building can be brought back to a “like new condition” and that may mean bringing back the copper dome and taking out windows and putting in windows with “thermal enhancements” and a sealing system in the sashes that provides barriers to the outside in both summer and winter. He can also talk to HVAC people about bringing climate control up to par, make the building more comfortable.

Information can be put together and the board can decide what needs to be done. Walter said he does not know enough about the needs yet. He will do explorations and get core samples to see why the conditions exist and how to repair them. Walter’s site visit on Monday and information from Blankenship will help Walter develop a proposal and get a recommendation from the board.

Walter said the building will get worse without repairs, so there is a need to stop problems and put it back together again. The roof would be his passion and Walter would love to put it back in copper condition, but further examination is needed to determine what options are best suited to resolve the situation.

Board members had several questions for Walter.

Board Chairman Emily Davenport asked whether the employees could stay on the first and second floor safety wise.

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Building restoration specialist Bill Walter, who owns Masonry Restoration Technologies and Services in Lima, Ohio, discusses the Logan County Courthouse dome on Monday evening. With safety concerns at the forefront, the county board met in a second special session to gain more insight on the issues created by rain seeping in at the roof level.

Walter said they could because nothing jumps out saying there is a need to leave the building. An assessment may be needed, but Haynes and Blankenship are already doing what they can to mitigate the water issues.

Board member Chuck Ruben said the county approved funding for ground penetrating radar to look at the floors and we need an answer on what is needed. He still wants Dewberry to check the floors to see if they are unsafe.

Walter said he respects other professionals, but for continuity he would prefer to use his own engineering services and do his own structural analysis to determine the extent of tile flooring problems and determine why the concrete is cracking.

Sheriff Landers said structural engineers said tile has worsened in the last five years. The ground penetrating radar would show where the problems are.

Walter did not see “ready signs” that a problem is imminent, though more heavy rains could cause a problem.

Blankenship said we run the risk of convoluting everything with duplication of services, so it might be wise to wait.

Ruben said it would be prudent to put the flooring check on hold until the board decides whether to use Walter.

Board member Bob Sanders asked Walter when he would have a plan.

Walter said he would come up with a plan by Friday.

Board member Scott Schaffenacker asked whether there was any action that should be done immediately.

With Haynes keeping water from getting past the dome area, Walter said that is working best for now. Repairs will have to be done on the outside skin of the dome at some point.

If hired, Walter said his projected schedule is to have his site investigation, analysis of materials, determination of needs, list of problems, needed repairs and expected costs for the project within 30 to 45 days. Once the board decides what to do Walter will prepare bid documents. And, in 90 to 120 days a contractor should be under contract. The duration of the project could be 18 months and it could be done with employees still working in the building though rooms may need to be moved around.

Since the third floor will not be open for a substantial period due to the problems, Sheriff Landers said there is a need to find an alternative location for court.

Schaffenacker asked whether the judges had gone to the library [to check their space].

Judges Jonathan Wright and Bill Workman both said they think the library could be functional for a while and Ruben said that could be approved at the board workshop.

Walter said work can be accelerated on some components of the building to mitigate their time in another facility.

Funding from both private and public was also discussed.

Ruben said the board has a year-to-year budget and cannot levy any more taxes without a referendum due to being in a Property Tax Extension Law Limit (PTELL) County. The board may be able to come up with $300,000 in float money. They borrow $1 million for tax anticipation warrants and may borrow more, but no influx of cash is coming in and grants could take months or years to come in.

Walter said there is no magic formula, but he has done courthouse projects with government grants that help make up a percentage of total costs. The rest is sometimes done with loans as low as one-and-a half to two percent interest. He has worked with three courthouse restorations in the last few years and they have figured out funding.

Board member Steve Jenness asked whether grants could be applied for if the project is done in phases.

Phases can be indicated on the contract, but Walter said interest rates would not be as good. Grants can be secured before projects start.

Kelly Elias, who works in the Circuit Clerk’s Office, asked about the costs of the other recent projects Walter had worked with and whether someone from the board would have to write the grant.

Walter said the costs for those projects were $2.3 M, $1.8 M and $3.5 M. For this project, Walter can just guess right now, but it may come in around $2.5 M. Replacing windows may cost about $300,000 and entranceways $200,000. Grants would be written by people who understand the conditions and could make sure the county is eligible.

Wanda Lee Rohlfs said the downtown was declared as a national historic district in 1985 and the most significant building was the courthouse. Rohlfs asked Walter what he thought the value would be if the courthouse is restored.

There are perceived values of items, but Walter said what an item is worth is what people will pay for it. Assuming the restoration goes forward, Walter said using unutilized spaces could make the perceived value go through the roof. He is not sure of a figure yet, but can get one together and tell the board the increased value.

Logan County Treasurer Penny Thomas asked what kind of federal money the other projects received and how much the counties had to put into the projects.

Walter will check that information, but said some may have come through entitlements, which are benefits under a government program. Entitlement incentives are offered to people who qualify and incentivize industry pursuits.

Schaffenacker asked whether new windows would be necessary.

Walter said not necessarily, but what the courthouse has now is not energy efficient. It could be done later, but the building will not have peak efficiency if not done.

Board administrative assistant Brenda Clark asked if using another exit was brought up? Walter said the basement could be an emergency egress area.

Lisa Bobb, who works in the State’s Attorney’s Office, asked about codes and compliance for old buildings.

Walter said he would have to work with compliance and look at what needs to be brought up to code. It will all be reviewed and the courthouse would be made well within code.

Blankenship’s motion to have Walter continue in his bidding process and make a presentation of his plans at next Tuesday’s Regular Board meeting was unanimously approved.

The board and the public seemed to offer overwhelming support to Blankenship’s recommendations and were appreciative of his leadership in resolving the urgent needs of the Logan County Courthouse.

[Angela Reiners]

Bill Walter Biography - Pdf

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