Among the items approved by Barton County commissioners Monday morning was the county’s capital improvement plan, a loose outline to help guide budget planning for the next five years.
Looming large in that plan is the restoration of the venerable Barton County Courthouse, which turned 100 years old this year. This could be costly, with studies indicating the roof needs to be replaced, there are drainage issues and the corners are separating from the building.
“The commission is studying which order to correct the problems that are the most critical,” said County Administrator Phil Hathcock.
In February, a crew from Professional Engineering Consultants took 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.
That was the last piece of the puzzle. WDM had already looked at the interior of the courthouse and a report outlining recommendations has been submitted to county officials.
Referring to this report, Hathcock said the new roof and the structural issues will likely be at the top of the list. The price for these could exceed $200,000.
The commission met with WDM architects last week. “They presented some options on how to repair things,” Hathcock said.
The courthouse is showing its age.
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, Hathcock said. Repairs done in the past, including turnbuckles installed to pull the corner walls together, are proving to be unsuccessful.
One hundred years of settling is part of the issue. But, WDM believes water running off the roof is softening the soil and expediting the deterioration.
That is why the drainage must be corrected, Hathcock said. County crews have already cleaned some drain pipes and rerouted some downspouts to channel water away from the building.
As for the structure, a possible solution is to use additional turnbuckles, only tying the exterior walls to the floor.
Replacing the roof is also vital, he said, adding water is seeping into the building.
There is also a window in the commission chambers cracking due to settling. In addition, there have been pipes burst and other problems.
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.
Realizing the need to stabilize the historic building, the County Commission last fall directed Hathcock to solicit proposals for the study. In December of last year, the commission hired WDM at a cost of $24,300 to do a structural analysis of the building, excluding the plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning.
County officials held a reception marking the centennial on June 1, in conjunction with June Jaunt.