Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Hill County Courthouse workers and people with business in the building were in the dark for awhile Thursday due to a relatively minor setback in construction there, Hill County Commissioners said Thursday afternoon. Commission Chair Mike Anderson said the commission ordered a “voluntary brownout” in the building after workers cutting through the concrete floor on the bottom level of the courthouse sliced through an electrical line in the floor at 12:20 a.m. Thursday. “Apparently some of the original power to the building was in a conduit in the floor. There was no permanent damage,” he said. “We needed to replace those power lines anyway.” Anderson said there are other power supplies to the building, but the workers in the courthouse turned out lights and nonessential items to lower the power demands until the line was replaced. The brownout ran from 8 a.m. until about 11 a. m., when that work was completed, he said. Work in the building continues. The ground floor, access to which was closed this week, is expected to be reopened in about a month and the work on the courthouse steps is expected to be complete within two months. The commissioners have procedures in place to help people who will have difficulty entering the building because of the construction. The Hill County Commission said they expect that over the years the remaining levels of the courthouse will also be remodeled. Commissioner Kathy Bessette said there are many reasons to eventually remodel the rest of the building, including to meet changing needs and increasing demands. “Efficiency is one,” she said. “It’s also just getting old. (The remodeling is) 30 years old,” Anderson added. The courthouse was last remodeled in the 1970s. Anderson said the work on the ground floor is the most crucial. “The biggest project is what we’re doing now,” Anderson said. “The ground floor is the infrastructure for the rest of the building.” The work on that level includes Completely gutting the level and removing the existing floor. That floor has a history of buckling, causing sometimes visible and inconvenient swells and dips in the surface, the commissioners have said. The floor will be replaced after new water and sewer lines and a subfloor drainage system are put in place. Anderson said the drainage system is part of a design hoped to keep the floor from buckling in the future. While the floor is being worked on, the east entrance to the courthouse, which is the entrance designed to provide access to people with disabilities, is closed. The floor, with access to the elevator, is expected to reopen in four to six weeks, Anderson said. The elevator, which was closed for repairs of a malfunction two weeks ago and reopened last week, is set to provide access to the top three floors of the building. It will be temporarily closed in a few weeks so it can be raised to match the level of the new floor on the ground level. The courthouse steps, which had been closed for several months while they were rebuilt, reopened Monday although more work is planned on that project. Until the ground floor is reopened, people will have to use the steps, although special arrangements have been made for people with difficulty going up the steps. Anderson said people can call the courthouse at 265-5481 to make arrangements if they can’t go up the steps, including arranging meetings in areas outside of the courthouse with access for people with disabilities. If they don’t make arrangements ahead of time, the courthouse staff has installed a buzzer at the bottom of the steps people can use and someone will come out to help them, Anderson said. Once the work on the floor of the bottom level is complete, the county will start taking bids on a project to remodel the basement, creating new offices for the Hill County attorney, the county extension office and the county sanitarian and planner. Those offices are expected to be open next spring or summer, Anderson said. Part of the work on the basement includes installing four new boilers, which will heat the building and the steps. The boilers will be set to run in a sequence, kicking on in turn as needed, to increase the efficiency. Anderson said the new boilers are 99.6 percent efficient, a vast improvement over the technology available when the last boilers were installed about 1982. Those boilers were about 55 percent efficient, he said. The improved efficiency will greatly reduce the expense to heat the courthouse, Anderson said. “We were pumping 45 percent of our gas out the door,” he said. One of the jobs of the new boilers will be to supply a radiant heat system installed in the new steps. That will keep snow and ice from accumulating on the steps, Anderson said. While the steps have been reopened, they are not nearly finished. White handrails have been installed temporarily until the permanent handrails, of a polished brass, are installed. A finished surface will also be installed over the rough concrete now visible on the walls at the edge of the steps. There are no plans in the works to start the future projects of remodeling the next floors of the courthouse. “We might not even be here,” Anderson said. “It might take 40 years,” Bessette said.