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Hill County Courthouse steps finally completed

Patrick Winderl

Havre Daily News

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The finishing touches were put on the newly remodeled front steps of the Hill County Courthouse this morning, ending the construction project six months behind schedule.

A crew with the Hill County Road Department used a truck-mounted hydraulic crane to lift two 400-pound lampposts onto pedestals on either side of the base of the steps shortly after 8 a.m. Once the posts were in place, Courthouse building manager Rick Ricci prepared to top them with lights.

The event attracted several Courthouse employees, who watched as a project plagued with delays came to a conclusion.

"It'll look nice once it's finished," county sanitarian Clay Vincent remarked as he watched the lampposts being bolted into place. "It's certainly been long enough."

The lampposts were cast in Anaconda, and are designed to resemble those that might have been used in the early 1900s, Ricci said.

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.

The building was erected in 1915, and the front steps were renovated in the early 1960s.

The steps had become worn and needed replacing, County Commission Chair Pat Conway said this morning.

"The decision was made because the steps, due to their age, were developing cracks in the marble," he said. "They were just getting old."

The new steps will look much like they did before the renovation in the 1960s. "We wanted to maintain as much of the original look as possible," he said.

The one exception is the absence of an archway that formerly ran beneath the steps. The cost of rebuilding them with the archway was financially prohibitive, Conway said.

Phillips Construction Co. of Great Falls was awarded the contract to remodel the front steps and build the handicapped-access ramp on the east side of the Courthouse. Both phases were to be completed by September, but a series of material delays hamstrung the project.

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, Conway said. Winter weather delayed the project further.

"Obviously we are pleased that we should be coming to closure here shortly," Conway said this morning.

Calls to Phillips Construction Co. were referred to company official Jeff Anderson, who was not available.

The ramp on the east side of the building was completed without delay, and opened last summer. Conway said the main reasons the county constructed the ramp was to make the building more accessible to people with disabilities. Previously, those who could not use the front steps had to use an electric lift that took them to the basement, where they could then use an elevator that stops on every floor in the Courthouse.

"The other reason is the lift was getting old, and we were having a difficult time getting parts for it," Conway said. "It was decided the best approach was to build the ramp on the east side, so they could get to the elevator and travel to the other floors. This also eliminated any mechanical problems we had had with the lift."

Conway said the response by people who use the ramp has been "very positive."

"In fact, some of the individuals that are participating in our (Women, Infants and Children) program with the young mothers in strollers, or even just carrying their youngsters, it's much easier for them to use the ramp instead of trying to traverse the steps," he said.


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