If one would ask what is Madison County’s focal point, many would argue the courthouse in downtown London.
Built in 1892 by the Doerzbach and Decker construction company, the building has served as an icon, as well as the center of the county’s civic life.
However, buildings age, wood warps, grout disintegrates and stone erodes into sand. The courthouse needed repairs badly, mostly from years of accumulated water damage.
In September, county commissioners enlisted help from Joe Mullins of Allstate Exteriors to get the building back into shape.
“Working on this is a big honor for our company,” said Mullins. “We get to work on the most historic building in Madison County.”
Most of the work is on parts of the building few will likely ever see. On Thursday, Mullins lead The Press to some of those areas.
Visitors must make their way through a small door near the base of the courthouse’s clock tower to see some of the roof patch work. The trip is rewarded with a spectacular view.
“When emergencies pop up, we immediately address them,” he said. “These patches on the roof as well as the situation in the records room were something we had to do immediately.”
On the third floor, the county stores some old records in large books. A big leak popped up above one of the shelves, avoiding the books by a mere stroke of luck.
A more apparent repair was done on the northern staircase to the courthouse, where the stone has been power washed and re-grouted.
“We want to work on the outside, but the water infiltration on the inside was such a serious issue, we had to tackle that first,” he said.
Allstate has mostly been working on the third and fourth floors, as well as the clock tower’s interior, since they started in October.
Most of the issues with the building stem from the materials used to build these sections. The white top of the building isn’t made out of stone, but a hollowed out façade covering up walls made of sheets of tin.
Over the years, water started to build up from condensation through the metal. To drain the buildup, workers many years ago built a system of gutters inside the upper half of the building.
Then holes started to appear in the roof, bringing more water in. All of this moisture led to the rusting of bolts and other important parts keeping the structure together.
Mullins’ company decided the best fix was to not just replace the rusty and damaged panels, but to seal them with a coating that will prevent future condensation from seeping in.
However, before that work can be completed, Mullin’s crew had to repair a landing inside the face of the clock. The wood had taken the brunt of the water seeping in and would have made it unsafe to work up there.
The workmen had to bring 12-foot boards up through the narrow spiral staircase on the south side of the building to the clock tower.
After that, to get to the top of the clock tower, workers had go up several flights of stairs, as well as climb a tiny wooden stepladder.
All while holding the supplies, of course.
In order to avoid disrupting court and government business, crews moved the materials after business hours or when the building was closed for holidays.
“It’s amazing to think of how those workmen built these, all those years ago,” he said. “Today we have electric lifts and so many tools to make this more convenient. You have to sit and wonder how they got this high up to build all of this. They certainly were a different breed back then.”
All of the hard work on the landing is nearly finished, awaiting some extra reinforcement.
“Once we can get working on sealing everything, we’ll be some of the last people working up here for a long time,” said Mullins. “The goal is to prevent any moisture from getting in again. The only reason for someone to [get up to the clock tower] might be to reset the clock.”
For the rest of winter, Allstate will focus on getting these internal issues fixed while also hitting on any unexpected emergency repairs the build may face.
Cost has been somewhat of an unknown.
Last December, commissioners received a quote of more than $6 million for the building’s complete renovation. Instead of moving forward with the entire project at once, commissioners will bid for one component at a time, said Commissioner Paul Gross.
“So far we have set aside $500,000, but I’m sure it could very well change as it goes along,” he said. “The idea is we’ll bid these contracts out and pay the cost of doing these repairs right and make sure the water stays out.”
Allstate hasn’t been paid for services yet, but has sent in an invoice for $60,000.
Mullins said he hoped to have all of the inside work completed during summer. Stone and roof repairs will be the next priority.
Gross said he anticipates the complete renovation of the courthouse to take years.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.