After the Fire

Commissioners rely on experts
to guide restoration effort

Courthouse cleanup, restoration
considered a challenging project

By Don Ward

July 2009 Indiana Edition Cover

July 2009
Edition Cover

(July 2009) – For a week in late May, area residents watched in amazement as the 1855 Jefferson County Courthouse burned, then smoldered for several days, then became the focus of an all-out cleanup effort. During a June 8 press conference at Madison City Hall, Fire Chief Steve Horton announced the cause of the fire to be accidental and caused by a worker with a blow torch who caught the copper downspouts above the north door frame on fire. The fire quickly spread under the eave and up to the belltower, engulfing the cupola.
In the immediate days and weeks after the fire, workers from several companies worked tirelessly to remove from the building important documents, furniture, smoke- and water-damaged items and asbestos from the floor tiles and acoustic materials located on the third floor.
While the excitement has now died down and the spectators have gone home, the work continues at the site. A sense of urgency exists among county officials to move quickly on starting the long restoration effort it will take to get the building under roof and protected from rain and weather. As of late June, that effort included a decision to install a temporary water-collection “membrane” over the roof to protect it from further damage.
While those efforts have been led by the three-person Jefferson County Commission – Julie Berry, Tom Pietrykowski and Mark Cash – dozens of technical advisors, insurance adjusters and contractors have helped guide the process along. The commission has met almost weekly since the May 20 fire that broke out on the roof and engulfed the 150-year-old belltower and destroyed the roof over the third-floor Circuit Courtroom. Firefighters from more than 15 local and neighboring departments were able to extinguish the flames in time to save the building from complete destruction.

The 24,000-pound belltower, which began to lean southward in the immediate days after the fire, was cut in half and removed the top half during late afternoon thunderstorm on May 28. The next morning, workers carefully removed the 3,118-pound bell from the belltower and placed into storage. At that point, on Friday, May 29, the commissioners were anxious to get inside Judge Ted Todd’s heavily damaged courtroom but were halted by state environmental officials who reported the existence of asbestos there. It took two more weeks to hire a company and remove the asbestos. That work ended in mid-June, allowing the commissioners to explore their options for covering the roof of the building before winter.

After The Fire

On June 19, the commissioners met to consider bids for a temporary roof that might be put on the building to buy some time while the full restoration is designed and approved. But when the bids came in ranging from $470,000 to $1.47 million, the commissioners balked at spending so much on a temporary roof, only to have to come back later and remove it and install a permanent one.
“We were surprised by that cost, so we decided to move right into a permanent roof and leave a spot for the dome to be added later,” Berry said in a June 26 interview.
The commission has been told it could take up to eight months to construct a new dome, and companies in Campbellsville, Ky., and Iowa have expressed interest in the job.
At press time on June 29, the commission’s next step was to accept three bids for a demolition crew to remove the remaining timbers and roof pieces down to the ceiling level of the third floor. That work should render the building safe for construction crews who will then come in later to do the full building renovation.
“Right now, it is not safe up there; there are still pieces of ceiling hanging and it all needs to be cleaned up,” Commissioner Pietrykowski said at the meeting.
That bid, due by July 9, will include installing the water-diverting membrane.
“It won’t be fail-safe, but it will be effective in channeling a good deal of water outside,” said Steve Bruns, group manager for investigative services at American StructurePoint Inc., based in Indianapolis. The county commission retained StructurePoint at the outset of the fire recovery effort to provide architectural advice.
In an ongoing effort to dry out the building, the doors and windows are opened almost daily, Berry said. The contents have been removed but the ceilings of the first and second floors are water-damaged, and the plaster will likely have to be replaced, Bruns said.
The commission, meanwhile, also plans to accept bids from firms for the entire exterior and interior Courthouse renovation. StructurePoint also plans to bid on the renovation work, Bruns said.

Courtroom damage

Photo by Don Ward

This photo of the third floor Circuit
Courtroom were taken May 29, just an
hour after the bell and final belltower
section were removed from the roof.

While bids for the work are being sought, the commission has appointed three people to serve on an advisory board to help review the bids and help select the company to do the work. The three advisory board members are Joe Craig, a longtime County Councilman, Al Huntington, the 13-year former Madison mayor, and John Staicer, executive director of Historic Madison Inc. Staicer has attended all of the post-fire emergency and regular commission meetings and has been advising the board on technical issues relating to historic preservation historic of significant courthouse property recovered from the fire.
“They are part of a non-voting, advisory panel to help us sort through the bids and make the right decision,” Berry said. All considerations will be made by the panel in public meetings, she added.
When the renovation is completed, Berry said the exterior of the Courthouse should look almost exactly as it did prior to the fire. She hopes the renovation will, however, include improvements to such things as energy efficiency and code issues. Berry has been told by contractors it could take 18 months or more to complete the work.
Throughout the post-fire process, the commissioners have been fortunate in that they have received free expert advice from a number of knowledgeable sources from right here in Madison. In addition to HMI’s Staicer, Madison resident Link Ludington has attended the meetings and lent his advice. A former curator for the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, Ludington is now an architectural historian for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ State Museum and Historic Sites Division. Ludington in 1998 completed an in-depth historical study of the Courthouse’s construction history and paint schemes.

Jefferson County Commissioners

Photo by Don Ward

Jefferson County Commissioners
(from left) Julie Berry and Mark Cash,
with attorney Wil Goering, listen to a
report from a contractor during a
post-fire meeting.

Terry Wullenweber also has aided the commission with expert advice on plaster. His company, Wullenweber and Son, specializes in restoration work and plaster and has recently completed ceiling medallion projects at New Albany’s Culbertson Mansion and Aurora’s Hillforest. Wullenweber, of Versailles, Ind., has been retained by the county to remove the decorative plaster cornice and crown moldings that lined the ceilings of the third floor courtroom. They had been hidden from view for years by a drop ceiling.
Wullenweber has carefully stored the cornice pieces offsite and will use them to make molds for the restoration of the third floor. He is hoping the renovation will allow the decorative moldings to be seen this time, but that decision, which rests with the commission, may ultimately be based on cost.
Bruns said that removing such architecture is important “regardless of whether they are replicated and replaced in the building in the future. They become part of the county’s history, and if you don’t save them, that part of your history is lost.”
Another example of that history was two gas light fixtures that hung near the third floor courtroom ceiling and were discovered in the process of removing the ceiling cornices. They had been hidden from view by the drop ceiling. Staicer said the fixtures have been placed in storage as part of the building’s historical collection.

Terry Wullenweber

Photos by Don Ward

Dozens of pieces of
the decorative plaster cornices from the ceiling
of the third floor
courtroom of the
Jefferson County
Courthouse have been preserved by plaster
expert Terry
Wullenweber. He
plans to make molds
of the patterns to be
used in replicating
the cornices and placed
back into the building.

Perhaps ironically, a new state advisory commission established by state statute last year and met for the first time earlier this year, sent architecture and engineering experts to Madison to conduct a technical study of the building. This free advice arrived in the form of a report issued in June by engineer Fritz Herget of ARSEE Engineers in Fishers, Ind., and architect Ron Ross of Martin-Riley Architects in Fort Wayne, Ind. They are two of 12 members of the newly formed Indiana Courthouse Preservation Advisory Commission. Its mission is to assist county officials as they make decisions on how to rehabilitate and preserve the more than 80 historic county courthouses across the state. The members were appointed by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Chief Justice Randall Shepard of the Indiana Supreme Court. Shepard serves as the chairperson.
Herget’s report to the Jefferson County Commissioners noted that the dome and remaining roof structure, as well as the upper portion of the exterior walls, were unstable and needed to be stabilized or removed. Fire damage below the third floor had been limited by a concrete and steel floor inserted in the 1960s.
Ross’ report cited deterioration of some of the plaster details in the third story due to exposure and the potential of some plaster ceilings to fail. He provided photo illustrations of plaster damage and architectural details in the lower stories that could be salvaged or conserved.
Both Herget and Ross provided to the commission with recommendations on how to approach rehabilitation of specific details of the building. Berry said the report will be helpful to workers who are eventually hired to do the renovation.
Contacted by telephone in late June, Ross said , “As a person who has a deep interest in historic preservation, I was pleased to see efforts that had been made in preservation throughout Madison, and I would assume those same efforts would be applied to the Courthouse. The building has been well cared for and I feel confident the same sensibility will be applied to the Courthouse.”
The cast bronze bell, meanwhile, that was lifted out the fire-ravaged belltower on May 29 and placed for a day on Main Street for the public to see may or may not be returned to the top of the Courthouse, Berry said. It has been placed in storage and must be cleaned at some point by a company that specializes in such work, Staicer said.
Berry said it would depend on cost as to whether the bell will be returned to the future belltower or placed on permanent display in the Courthouse lawn. The bell and clock had not worked for many years. The clock mechanism did not operate and had been stored in the Courthouse basement.

Nina and Duane Schmidt

Photo by Don Ward

Nina and Duane
Schmidt of
Madison’s ServPro
franchise guided the
cleanup efforts.

Some parts of the clock faces have been salvaged and taken to the Jefferson County Historical Society to be placed into a permanent exhibit there (See story on bell and clock, Page 21).
In other action by the commission, bids have been collected to renovate the former Eagles building, which the county purchased in 2002 for $150,350 and sits just across the Jefferson Street from the Courthouse. With a limited budget of only $150,000 from the insurance company, the commissioners plan to hire a firm to build new offices there for the county and courts. In early 2007, two bids received for renovating that building each topped $500,000.
County offices are temporary located on the second floor of the MainSource Bank building, where they have been offered free rent for two years. Superior Court is being held at Judge Alison Frazier’s office on Second Street, while Todd’s Circuit Court and office have been relocated at the Madison Area Chamber-owned Venture Out Business Center on the hilltop. But county computer technicians say the distance between these offices has made it difficult to network the computers and are urging the county to consolidate the office at the Eagles building until the Courthouse renovation is complete.
As all of this is going on in Madison, the paper documents, files and historical records were removed from the Courthouse and freeze-dried in a storage building near Detroit. A bus-load of local officials from various offices traveled to Detroit in June to sort through the documents to determine which ones were worth saving. By doing so, they hope to reduce the cost of the salvage operation, since recovery of such documents is expensive.
The estimate to save, freeze and restore the more than 8,000 cubic feet of documents taken from the Courthouse approaches $600,000.
Overall, the commission and its attorney, Wil Goering, have steadily guided the recovery and restoration process along, but Berry admits, “It’s been pretty rough.” Asked if she could recall any more challenging time or issue that she has faced during her tenure on the commission, she quickly replied: “CAFO.”
She was referring to the previous conflicts that emerged during the county’s governance of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
“At least this time, we have insurance money to do the work and the public is behind us. Everyone has been very cordial and helpful and supportive throughout this entire recovery process, and we will get through it and get our Courthouse back the way it was, if not better,” she said.

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