By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The first part of a two-phase renovation project at the Hill County Courthouse was completed today.
The $287,000 upgrade includes installing a handicap-access ramp on the east side of the courthouse and repairing damage to the steps on the south side.
Phillips Construction of Great Falls has been been working on the east side of the building for several months, where crews have built a cement handicap-access ramp to the lower level of the building. The company finished that part of the project today, County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said.
The county received several competitive bids for the renovations, of which Phillips Construction was the lowest, Kaercher said. The bid offered to complete both phases within 120 days.
The handicap-access ramp will replace an electric lift near the stairs on the south side of the courthouse. The ramp will help the courthouse, which was built in 1950 and renovated in 1972, better comply with federal handicap-access regulations, Kaercher said.
"It gets us in compliance with the ADA," he said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which sets federal standards for making government buildings handicap accessible.
Hill County planner and sanitarian Clay Vincent, whose office is on the lower level, said the construction has closed the eastern access to the courthouse, causing inconvenience.
"It has been a pain. I'll be glad when it opens up," he said.
The second phase of the construction will begin immediately, Kaercher said. The project calls for Phillips Construction to tear down and replace the cement steps on the south side of the courthouse. The steps have deteriorated to the point that Milk River Engineering Inc. of Havre recommended replacing them, Kaercher said.
Jay Springer of Milk River Engineering said the steps do not present a hazard.
The new steps will look much like the original design did before the 1972 renovation, Kaercher said. However, the steps will not have an archway as they did in 1950.
The county accepted bids for rebuilding the steps to include the archway, but found them to be financially prohibitive, Kaercher said.
"It was just too costly to return it to the original," he said, adding that the cost of rebuilding the archway nearly doubled the project's cost.
The south side of the courthouse will be closed while the steps are being replaced. All access to the courthouse will be through the new east side access ramp, with enters the basement of the courthouse.
Kaercher said he was unsure how long the second phase would take to complete. The entire project has been somewhat behind schedule due to material delays that were not the fault of Phillips Construction, he added.
The completion of the two projects coincides with the completion of another major renovation to the interior of the courthouse. The county is now finishing a new storage room in the lower level of the courthouse. The space, located in the former jail, will now hold records instead of prisoners, Kaercher said.
Certain departments are in the process of moving a large number of public records into the room. The information included in the records will still be readily available to the public, he added.