Dollars and sense of restoring the historic Logan County Courthouse

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[March 16, 2020] 

On Wednesday, March 11, a press conference about the upcoming referendum on the ballot for the March 17 Primary Election was held at the Logan County Courthouse.

Restoration specialist Bill Walter said the project is significant and he is excited about the potential in front of us and things that can happen with the courthouse.

Walter then spoke about problem areas around the courthouse that are in need of repair.

The most visible problem Walter has noted is the courthouse dome. He said in the 1970s, contractors decided covering the dome with fiberglass was a good plan. Walter said possibly at the time, it was a suitable remediation attempt.
Now the fiberglass has far exceeded its projected life span and is failing, cracking, spalling and peeling away. As the fiberglass fails, it is allowing water to get inside and is finding weaknesses in the copper. The problem has allowed water to leak into the attic, which caused ceiling tiles to fall in the third-floor courtroom last May. That signified it had come to the point in time something needs to be done.

Other issues Walter said he has found as he did extensive studies of the courthouse are plumbing and heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) issues. The lack of an HVAC system in the courthouse is causing problems with the wood in the windows and swelling in the lime-based flooring that is susceptible to moisture. Walter said once the floor starts cracking, it allows moisture to get in.

Walter said the boiler system is the most significant aspect from a mechanical standpoint. The legs the boiler system stands on are very weak and fragile. Walter said if one boiler goes down, the other boiler will likely not be able to handle the load. The maintenance staff has been repairing the boiler pipes to try to stop leaks.

Since electricity was added as an afterthought when the courthouse was built 115 years ago, Walter said it has an insufficient electrical system. The system is inadequate when you consider all the modern-day electronics and electric devices. Walter said the system is in poor condition and needs upgrading.

Another area in need of upgrading is the security system. Walter said the sheriff is doing the best he can with what is available, but judges and other employees deserve to have a system that will better protect everyone.

The windows, roof, and façade of the building are additional areas in poor condition and in need of attention.

Over the past several months, Walter has been able to assess every facet of the building. Walter said we are in a position where we want to do a project that will bring back and restore the courthouse. He wants to add the necessary components to make it both historic and also fitting for the current century.

Logan County Circuit Clerk Mary Kelley, who has worked in the courthouse for over 42 years, next explained the referendum. Kelley said the tax will be .50 on every $100 on tangible goods and general merchandise. The tax has a sunset clause with an expiration date of 20 years, though Kelley said the board could choose to remove it earlier.

The [facilities tax] referendum is strictly for courthouse restoration. If the referendum passes, Kelley said it not only saves this historical building, but will also be funded by tourists staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and shopping in the area.

Voters can request a Republican, Democrat or non-partisan ballot when they go to the polls and Kelley said she appreciates everyone thinking about voting yes on the referendum. She said it is an investment for the county.


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To further explain what voters will be asked to consider, Logan County Board Vice-Chairman Scott Schaffenacker read the question that will be on the ballot. This question is: To pay for public facilities purposes for courthouse improvements, shall the county of Logan, Illinois be authorized to impose an increase on local sales tax of .5 percent.

An egress may be added to the basement Schaffenacker said, that will allow for better utilization. That would mean they could pull more services into the courthouse and the county could potentially sell other properties being used for services. Schaffenacker said they would be hitting the reset button on this facility.

Part of what Walter looked at was how well spaces can be used in the existing courthouse and how it relates to other county facilities. Walter said what he sees is, because of many inefficiencies some of those places can not be used as desired. Renovating the underutilized basement would allow for office space down there. It could also be suitable for storage and various activities. General upgrades could bring more business into the courthouse.

The current building and grounds budget has been mostly used for mitigation purposes and Schaffenacker said they have trying to do as many improvements as possible at one time to keep costs down.

Renovating the basement would allow it to be used for offices. Walter said as he looked at how well space is being used, many areas cannot be used as desired. He has also looked at all the floors of the courthouse to see what can be better utilized.

Schaffenacker then asked for questions.

One question was about potential funding available through grants and the Capital Bill not being accessible unless the referendum passes.

Schaffenacker said to his knowledge that information is correct, and the board has kept representatives such as Darin LaHood, Tim Butler and Senator Bill Brady apprised of the situation. Schaffenacker said these representatives want to see the county buy into it by passing the referendum.

Another question was about whether there would be a preventative maintenance plan once repairs are completed.

Walter said yes, there will. Any surplus from the tax revenue will be set aside for a maintenance program with the funds used on a yearly basis so the condition of the courthouse never falls short. These funds will help ensure the upgrades necessary from a technical and mechanical standpoint are never left undone.

After the project is done, Walter said the tax would take care of the maintenance program, which will be laid out with details of what is to be done and how it is to be done. For years to come, Walter said we can maintain the courthouse in pristine condition.

Someone asked Walter to explain the costs of tearing the courthouse down and starting anew like some have inquired about.

When constructing a new building, Walter said there are many hidden costs that become very prominent. Building a new courthouse would be in the vicinity of $35 million to $40 M when doing everything required to do the building the way it should be. In comparison to the estimated $8 M dollars to restore this building, Walter said that almost makes it a no-brainer from a decision standpoint.

There was a statement that with a new courthouse, in order to have the integrity of the courthouse architecture, the stained glass and other parts would be hard to replicate cost wise.

With another building, Walter said, the historical significance of the courthouse could never be replaced. There is nothing wrong with the functioning ability of this building, but Walter said it needs to be brought up to a position where it can function with today’s needs.

There is a book in the courthouse that visitors sign, and Kelley said visitors from all over the world come to see it. She has heard many comments about how lucky the county is to have this beautiful building. Kelley said this important building needs saving and repair.

In closing remarks, Schaffenacker said the board put a lot of thought into the issue since they had to close the third-floor courtroom due to falling plaster last May. The board looked at many scenarios and options and Schaffenacker said they believe the referendum is the best option for all people involved. For residents of the county, Schaffenacker said the sales tax increase is an investment in the future.

[Angela Reiners]

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