Work is underway to repair the façade of the Washington County Courthouse that will be both a cosmetic and structural improvement for the 121-year-old building.
Crews began in early March repointing mortar joints and pressure washing the building’s exterior after leaks were forming around some windows, causing water damage.
Justin Welsh, director of building and grounds for the county, said it is another phase in the overall renovations at the courthouse in recent years that also refurbished the dome and roof.
While passersby on the street can see the workers using power washers to clean the building, the intricate work around the windows to remove mortar joints, clean the area and then repoint them is important to keeping the building structurally sound, Welsh said. The workers are also resealing the exterior to give it added protection.
“It’s a pretty tedious job, as you can see. It’s something that’s needed to be done from a safety standpoint,” Welsh said, adding that there are areas where mortar joints have fallen out, leaving gaps. “Things are going really smoothly, knock on wood.”
Welsh admitted that the age of the building has made the work challenging at times, but the crews are also mindful of keeping the disturbance down to a minimum as activity ramps on the inside the courthouse after trials and other legal proceedings were permitted to resume in mid-March in the midst of the the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re working around (the building) as much as we can with the noise trying not to disturb anything going on inside the courthouse,” he said.
The work is part of a $1.476 million contract with Greensburg-based Allegheny Restoration that has extensive history working on older buildings at Penn State University, said Randy Vankirk, the county’s director of purchasing.
“They have plenty of experience,” Vankirk said.
The county is also pursuing a $100,000 state grant earmarked for construction on historical landmarks, Vankirk said, although officials have not heard whether they were approved for it yet.
Work on the front part of the building is expected to be completed in less than three weeks, allowing crews to move to other sides of the building with the hope that it will be finished by June. Similar work on the Family Court Center annex is expected to be completed by the end of October, Vankirk said.
“We’re going to do everything we can to limit the inconvenience to the courts,” he said.
The front entrance has been closed since December 2019 after work began on the granite floor in the outdoor portico. It was important to begin the façade work now to allow ample time for when the front South Main Street entrance is eventually reopened to the public. Vankirk said it will be up to the courthouse staff to determine when that will happen.
“We know they’re going to eventually reopen them. We want to get (the workers) in and out and move them around the building so when that decision is made to open the (front entrance to the) courthouse, they won’t be in their way,” Vankirk said. “We want to take care of the people’s palace.”