With the Barton County Courthouse turning 100 years old this year, the first steps in determining how to restore the aging building are underway.
Despite the chill Friday morning, a crew from Professional Engineering Consultants of Wichita had a drilling rig set up outside the white walls taking soil samples. WDM Architects is the Wichita firm hired to do an architectural study and structural analysis to determine what needs to be done, and it contracted with PEC to do the coring.
“This is the last piece of the puzzle,” county Operations Manager Phil Hathcock said. WDM has already looked at the interior of the courthouse and a report outlining recommendations should be done in about a month.
Armed with that information, Hathcock said the county know the extent of the structure’s problems and can decide how to proceed.
In the meantime, plans are in the works to mark the Barton County Courthouse’s centennial this year. Hathcock said a celebration is tentatively set for early spring.
The courthouse is showing its age, Hathcock said.
The four corners of the courthouse have begun to separate from the center of the building, causing cracks to form and plaster to fall on the fourth floor, he said. Repairs done in the past, including turnbuckles installed to pull the corners together, are proving to be unsuccessful.
There is also a window in the commission chambers cracking due to settling. In addition, there have been pipes burst and other problems.
Realizing the need to stabilize the historic building, the County Commission last fall directed Hathcock to solicit proposals for the study. Four were received and WDM was selected.
The commission unanimously approved in December the less expensive of two architectural study options. This involved hiring WDM at a cost of $24,300 to do a structural analysis of the building.
The other option, with a price tag of $49,800, would have studied the structural integrity, as well as the mechanical condition. This would have included WDM looking into the plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning.
Construction actually started in November of 1917 and it was expected to be done by November of 1918. The start of the project was delayed at first because the previous courthouse built on the same site in 1874-75 had not been razed on time.
By Dec. 18, 1918, the courthouse was finished. The first trial, a divorce case, had taken place the day before.
The original building had an outside staircase leading up to what was considered the first floor. That was removed in 1952.
Over the years, there have been some office moves and some remodeling. The commission now meets on what was called the ground floor, and the Sheriff’s Office has moved across the street.
But, by in large, the structure has remained mostly as it was in 1918.