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Supes Take First Steps To Repair Old Courthouse

As freshman House Delegate James Edmunds II heads to Richmond next week for the 2010 General Assembly session, he does so with an urgent request from the Halifax County Board of Supervisors – find state money that can be used to help repair the historic courthouse in Halifax.

Last year while Edmunds served as the Election District 5 supervisor, the state of disrepair at the courthouse was brought to the full board’s attention.

Outside, telltale whitish water trails scar sections of a north and west wall of the building.

Water is taking its toll on the historic building, and it is in dire need of care.

Edmunds, on a tour with fellow supervisors last year, saw firsthand the damage taking place at the historic facility, the peeling paneling, crumbling plaster and mold issues, all resulting from moisture problems.

“The courthouse grounds are very saturated because they’re holding a lot of moisture. This is creating problems for this old porous structure. It’s having a wick effect with the water being pulled into the building,” said County Administrator George Nester.

County officials have long been aware of the situation, but money has been the problem, according to Halifax County Supervisor Chairman William Fitzgerald.

“I recognize the courthouse is a historic building and needs to be preserved,” said the chairman.

A Dewberry & Davis engineering study was authorized in 2007, he said, a time when the county considered tearing down the abandoned jail.

“It’s going to be an expensive undertaking,” added Fitzgerald. “I don’t know how we can finance repair and renovation unless we get some kind of state or federal help.”

Bill Wolf, the county’s director of general properties, has told board members anything done to the inside of the building will be “a waste of money” until problems on the outside can be repaired.

At Monday night’s meeting, supervisors accepted Halifax Paving Company’s low bid of $10,800 to work on the outside drainage problems around the historic old courthouse building to which Wolf alluded.

The county administrator estimated that the work would take about two weeks, weather permitting.

Backfill will be removed from behind the wall that is located near the intersection of Routes 57, 360 and North Main during inspection to ensure it will stay in place because the wall has begun to show some signs of leaning, according to the county administrator.

Supervisor Chairman Fitzgerald described the work Halifax Paving Company would do as “patchmill for the courthouse, and it’s not going to really bring the courthouse up to date.

“The courthouse is going to need some funds from some source to really improve the courthouse to the standards where it should be,” he added suggesting the county secure the assistance of Del. Edmunds when filing an application for Historical Preservation funding from the General Assembly to assist with upgrading the old structure.

Nester explained the commonwealth has a program that allows eligible historic structures to request appropriation funding from the General Assembly, but the request has to be submitted by the delegate serving the location of the historic facility.

He further explained the locality can request up to one-half of the cost of the historic structure, and the local government will be required to explain how the other half will be funded.

“We have looked into possible sources,” Nester told supervisors, “and the U. S. Department of Agriculture through the former Farmers’ Home Administration does have a combination of grant and loan programs, so the opportunity to secure the funding just depends on one thing we need to accomplish yet and that would be to have the cost estimate prepared by a historic architect who is familiar with the period of design and restoration of historic structures.”

The only thing that would prohibit the board from making that application is asking that we receive the estimated cost of restoring that historic structure.

According to the county administrator, the Halifax Courthouse was built in “a piecemeal effort” – the original courthouse was constructed circa 1823 to 1827 and the other was an addition constructed in 1906 with the annex not being eligible for this type of state funding.

Nester offered to get a cost estimate on the cost of restoring the historic courthouse “period appropriate” as required by the Historic Landmarks Commission.

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman pointed out it would be difficult to get a cost estimate without having a detailed plan.

Nester explained the county had a walk through by a historic architect approximately two and a half years ago that provided a detail of what needed to be done, but it did not provide a cost estimate because no date had been set “and construction dollars do change over time.”

Bowman suggested supervisors refer to the building and grounds committee the document in county possession that provides a general summary of the improvements necessary but does not assign a dollar value.

“Let’s have them review and make sure that the steps identified in that plan are appropriate today, and with the committee’s approval, then we can proceed to get a cost estimate,” he concluded.