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Dedication of Historic Boone County Courthouse takes place tonight, building dates to 1889

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

An open house and public dedication of the restored Historic Boone County Courthouse will take place this evening.

The public is invited to tour the facility, located at 2988 Washington Street (KY 18) in Burlington, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Assistant Boone County Administrator Matthew Webster, who spearheaded the Historic Boone County Courthouse restoration project, provided a sneak peek of the interior (photos by Mark Hansel).

The Dedication Program, which will include Judge/Executive Gary Moore, County Commissioners Charlie Walton, Charles Kenner and Cathy Flaig, and other state and local officials, will take place at 5:30 p.m.

The historic building will now be used as a community center.

Assistant Boone County Administrator Matthew Webster was asked to evaluate the condition of the structure when he was hired as government and community relations coordinator in August 2014.

Webster realized the iconic building provided a crucial link to Boone County history, but he also knew restoring it was a tall order.

“The building had been sitting here for about 15 years essentially vacant and was really deteriorating badly,” Webster said. “They were having serious issues with water penetration. The main roof is sloped, it was redone about 15 years ago and is not a problem, but four flat roofs had serious water penetration from the membranes.

In addition, the building was sandblasted in the 70s, removing a protective coating, which allowed water to seep into the brick and cause additional damage.

Workers put the finishing touches on the first-floor hallway of the Historic Boone County Courthouse.

An annex built in the 1950s still housed the child support office and the drug court, but the rest of the building was vacant.

“The number one goal of this project was protection of the asset, to make sure that this historic courthouse would stay viable for hundreds of years to come,” Webster said. “Now that the Rabbit Hash General Store has burned down, although we’re thrilled to death with the work they have done to rebuild it, I think the Historic Courthouse here in Burlington is probably one of the last and most iconic buildings in the county.”

The County Courthouse has always been located at the northeast corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets, but this is actually the third courthouse built on the site.

The first log courthouse, built in 1801, was replaced by a larger, two-story brick building in 1817.  That courthouse was remodeled several times but eventually demolished to make way for the present building.

The current structure was completed in 1889 at a cost of $19,740. It continued to serve as the location of the Circuit Court until the Boone County Justice Center was completed in 2003.

The restoration project was budgeted at $1.6 million and with the award of $150,000 in historic tax credits came in on budget. Century Construction did the work.

An elevator was added where the annex connects to the original courthouse, which allows access and makes the building ADA-compliant, without disturbing the historic integrity of the structure.

The second floor courtroom will be the centerpiece of the renovated Historic Courthouse. One of the four windows lining the wall was removed to install a fire escape and replaced. Can you tell which one? Show up tonight to find out.

The centerpiece of the reconstruction project is the 2,000-square-foot, second-floor courtroom.

Those who visited the room when it was still in use will remember that the room was designed on a slope, in theater-style, at the entrance.

“We took that out because it made the room more functional and it wasn’t ADA-compliant,” Webster said. “We worked with the state historic preservation folks and they agreed that even though it was historic to the building, it minimized the functionality. They loved the idea that we left the trim all around, so there will never be a question as to where that original slope was.”

The room has two main features that might draw the interest of visitors.

“At some point they had removed one of the windows in the courtroom and added a fire escape, and we were able to remove that and put the window back,” Webster said. “For me, the best thing is, I’ve taken pictures and showed them to people and nobody can tell which window was put back.”

At one time, the building also featured a clock tower, but was not structurally able to support it, so that was removed.

There had been long been speculation that the original tin ceiling still existed above the acoustic ceiling that was added in the 50s.

During the project, the original pressed tin ceiling in the second-floor courtroom was uncovered and restored.

“We had our property maintenance department abate a section and when they pulled down the acoustic tile, lo and behold, the pressed tin ceiling still existed above it. “We were a little disheartened, because when they put the acoustic ceiling up, they nailed furring strips through the tin, but the holes were actually very small and were able to be repaired. The tile came back to life and all of the tile existed except for a patch right in the center of the middle section.”

A fan was added at that section to help with circulation of heat and air conditioning.

The room has a full slate of amenities, including a screen, a projector and sound system and can be used for presentations and conferences. The site could also be used by other departments, for example as a rain site for the Parks Department summer concert series or even a winter series.

A set of narrow stairs leads to the bell tower. The bell still rings and, dating to the earliest days of the building, people have climbed the stairs, rung the bell, and inscribed their name and the date on the walls.

From the earliest days of the Historic Courthouse, people climbed a set of narrow stairs to ring the bell. Many, including this visitor from 1898, commemorated the trip by inscribing their name and the date on the walls.

The functionality of the Historic Courthouse got a boost in 2015, when the Union Community Theatre lost its space after it had already booked a performance of “High School Musical.”

With a lot of cooperation from several county agencies, the Historic Courthouse was converted to a temporary theater venue. The performance came off without a hitch and demonstrated that the old building still had some life in it.

Webster said it took a tremendous amount of cooperation among county agencies to pull the project off.

“The Fiscal Court was very supportive and the County Attorney had to move his entire child support staff to the nearby Kelly House,” Webster said. “In order to find space for them to function, the Parks Department, which uses that as their annex, had to move across the street, but everyone was very cooperative.”

The building will also have a conference room that will be used for meetings of the Historic Review Board and other county departments and can be reserved by the general public when available.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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One Comment

  1. Peggy Eubanks says:

    There should have been a mention that the restoration work was completed by Century Construction. They did a wonderful job.

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