Courthouse front may change

Friday, July 29, 2011
Under a plan described to Marshall County commissioners, this side of the Courthouse would become the building's front door, an entrance and exit, with the north and south doors becoming exit-only doors.

County commissioners got a peek Monday at plans for more courthouse restoration when their architect showed how shifting the building's front door from the south to the west could solve three problems.

The wide steps reaching toward the second level of the courthouse lead to a bridge over what's been a walkway, according to architect James Kennon's explanation. The bridge is supported by two steel I-beams.

"They are rusting," Kennon said of the I-beams. "The bridge is a little shaky. That's why it's closed off."

The I-beams are related to a problem with water leaking into the courtroom on the first floor of the courthouse and there are drainage issues with condensed water, he said.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security standards call for controlled access to such buildings and Sheriff Norman Dalton agrees. The way the north and south doorways are configured at stairwells creates security issues.

Making those doorways exit-only avenues from the building would solve the security issue if the west side was reconfigured to be the building's front door, Kennon said. The west side would also be changed to provide better handicap access. That would give handicapped people the same entrance and therefore status as others. Equal access is a factor to be considered under the federal requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Kennon's quick presentation at the conclusion of the commissioners' monthly meeting drew some questions. Cost was an early question. If the restoration was conducted in one project, the cost might be about $1.1 million, the architect said. If it was divided into phases to reduce the individual projects' costs, then the total might be $1.6 million. The difference is because of costs associated with starting and concluding a phase.

The estimates are from D.F. Chase Construction Inc. of Nashville, the general contractor that won the $410,770 contract for the roof and clock tower restoration during late 2009 and early 2010.

The numbers are about five years old," Kennon said of the $1.1 million and $1.6 million estimates "but thanks to the economy, they're probably still accurate."

The roof repair and restoration completed nearly a year ago prompted area residents to talk with their commissioners, as Nathan Johnson reported Monday.

"I've got a lot of people saying, 'Why put copper on the roof?' And they can't put shingles on their roofs," Johnson said.

Copper lasts 80 years while shingles last 15-20 years, Kennon said.

After the meeting, Sheriff Norman Dalton was asked about security at the courthouse.

"There's no way we can control who comes and goes" at the building, Dalton said. "The only thing we can do is have a court officer in the courtroom."

There are three ways in and out of the building. Two main entrances are on the north and south sides. On the north side, there's a handicapped entrance that is just west of the north doors.

Asked if he has enough deputies to post security officers at a new main entrance, the sheriff replied, "I don't know if they will employ somebody from a private security business to monitor the entrance. I don't know what they have in mind."

Dalton does not have enough employees to do the job now, he said.

Additional discussion on the architect's plan is anticipated at meetings of the Building Committee.