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Jefferson Co. courthouse renovations to include repairs to columns

August 09, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • The first casualties in the upcoming $1.1 million renovation of the Jefferson County Courthouse will be the ancient boxwoods that guard its front entrance. The boxwoods must go, said members of the committee coordinating the project, because they'll be in the way when repairs begin on the four huge columns that hold up the courthouse's portico and bell tower.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The first casualties in the upcoming $1.1 million renovation of the Jefferson County Courthouse will be the ancient boxwoods that guard its front entrance.

The boxwoods must go, said members of the committee coordinating the project, because they'll be in the way when repairs begin on the four huge columns that hold up the courthouse's portico and bell tower.

The columns are deterioriating but are in no danger of collapse, said David A. Kemnitzer of Shepherdstown, W.Va., the project's architect. "They're not going to come down," he said.

"The columns are the courthouse and they have to be fixed to prevent further deterioration," said County Commission President Patsy Noland, who represents the commission on the courthouse committee.

Kemnitzer said representatives of Minghini Construction Co., the low bidder, drilled into the columns last week to check the extent of damage.

The columns are constructed of solid brick and have no steel cores.

The drilling revealed some broken bricks, but most were intact, Kemnitzer said.

Some of the deterioration is blamed on modern Portland cement that was applied to the columns over the years, he said.

Portland cement is harder and less porous than the materials used when the columns were built around 1872-73.

"Building pathologists have proven that the characteristics of Portland cement traps moisture in masonry, which in the cold condenses and freezes with expansion that damages the masonry," Kemnitzer wrote in a report to the committee Thursday.

"When repairing historic buildings, modern materials often have unintended consequences that lead to deterioration of the historic fabric," Kemnitzer wrote. "This is what happened in the Jefferson County Courthouse."

The repairs will begin with the removal of the stucco finish on the columns. Once exposed, the damaged bricks will be replaced with bricks and mortar that match the originals as closely as possible, the architect said.

The cast-iron boots on the bottom of each column will be removed and repainted. Once they're off, the brickwork behind them will be inspected and repaired if necessary.

An archaeologist will determine if there are any important historic artifacts around and under the columns. Committee members said they don't expect any will be found.

When repairs are completed, the columns will be covered with high lime stucco and whitewashed with lime wash, Kemnitzer said.

There was no specific timetable for when the work would begin. One column would be worked on at a time, said Bill Polk, the county's maintenance supervisor.

The courthouse project also includes renovations to the portico, bell tower and windows, removal of all paint from the building's brick walls, and repairs to the wood trim, roof and guttering.

The work will meet official historic standards, members said.

The committee will apply for grants.

Present Thursday were Kemnitzer, Polk, Noland, county employee Kirk Davis, committee member John Allen and Tim Boyde, Jefferson County's administrator.

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