Houghton County eyes courthouse repairs

HOUGHTON – Repairs to the Houghton County Courthouse were the focus of a presentation to the Houghton County Board Tuesday.

Karin Cooper, project architect at U.P. Engineers & Architects, presented the draft of a condition assessment and maintenance report to the board.

UPEA examined the towers for stability to find out from where pieces of sandstone were falling off.

“The building is in very sound condition but the sandstone is one of the weakest links, and the mortar holding the sandstone together,” she said. “We would consider that to be a high priority, as far as the maintenance schedule goes.”

The spalling of sandstone is worse near the ground, because of the dual forces of rain and splash-back, Cooper said.

“I don’t think anyone needs to be afraid that in most of our lifetimes it’s going to fall down due to the erosion,” she said. “But the longer you leave it that way, the worse it’s going to get and it’s going to be more and more expensive to fix it.”

Cooper estimated the cost to fix it would be about $600,000. She said some grants may be available for work. However, she added government entities are less able to obtain government grants than private businesses because they have means such as taxation available.

UPEA recommended the county set aside money through a millage or other means to fund repairs to the building.

“I think it’s a very important component of our county,” Cooper said. “It’s well-used, it’s a beautiful building and they don’t make them like this anymore. As a resident of the county, I’d like to see it maintained and preserved. And I’ve heard that from others, as well.”

Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said he thought the county should be able to get some grants.

“They may not always be government dollars, but there’s some foundations out there that may very well chip in, along with a recorded match, obviously,” he said.

Wood window frames were put in at the courthouse about 25 years ago and require continual maintenance, Cooper said. A wood window with an aluminum exterior could be used to reduce those expenses. They are also permitted in historical renovations, Commissioner Tim Palosaari said.

Controller Eric Forsberg said work needed in the interior is mainly insulation in the attic.

Forsberg said the county will eventually have to find alternate storage space for documents that are in the attic because the weight of the boxes is causing the floor to sag. In Houghton County Circuit Court, directly below it, the sagging has caused plaster to fall off the ceiling.

“The judge volunteered to wear a hard hat, but we’ve got to patch that up,” Forsberg said.