by Ellen Thompson
A number of problems with the Hill County Courthouse steps has caused the county commissioners and county attorney to order barricades placed in the outside aisles of the courthouse steps.
The commission has voted to file suit over the problems, Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said today.
Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson said problems include cracked balusters and banisters that are too wide to serve as handrails.
"We don't believe that the stairs that were constructed were in compliance with the contract," she said.
Peterson said the company primarily responsible for design of the steps was Milkriver Engineering of Havre. In addition, the Bozeman architectural firm Springer Group worked on the project. Both companies will be named in the suit, she said.
Owners of the companies could not be reached for comment today.
The county has hired a Great Falls attorney, Gary Zadick, to handle the lawsuit, Peterson said.
Zadick said the lawsuit would probably be filed in a couple of weeks, but he is still seeking comments from Peterson and another attorney who are reviewing the case.
Peterson said the County Commission voted on Oct. 26 to terminate the contract with Milkriver, effective 15 days after that date.
The rebuilding of the steps was part of a $292,000 project that included the construction of a handicapped-access ramp on the east side of the Courthouse and remodeling the front steps at the south entrance to resemble their original design. Work began in 2003, and work on the east of the building was completed that year.
A number of delays slowed completion of the staircase. On two occasions, plaster balusters for the handrails on each side of the steps arrived in Havre cracked or damaged and had to be sent back to a subcontractor in Texas. Winter weather delayed the project further.
A few weeks ago, county officials decided to place barricades on the outside aisles, forcing people who enter the building to use the center aisle, which is bordered by two sets of handrails.
"It's unsafe to leave it open," Peterson said. " winter is coming and we didn't want anybody to slip."