With a few projects left to mark off the checklist, the renovations to the now 78-year-old Massac County Courthouse are almost complete.
“This has been a process,” said Jayson Farmer, chairman of the Massac County Commission. “I think it looks a lot better, especially when you go into the office and see the rounded windows; they’re gorgeous.”
Replacing all the building’s single-pane windows was just one factor in the renovations, but it’s one courthouse users can tell a difference in.
“The windows are the best feature,” said Richard Goines, Massac County Probation supervisor. “If you saw what we had before with the windows, it’d blow your mind. The glass was single pane and it had the glaze around it. The glaze was so bad at times when the wind would blow, the glass would actually shake. The building’s also quieter without the window units and you can’t hear the cars drive by. It’s awesome; it really is.”
Massac County State’s Attorney Josh Stratemeyer agrees. “It’s 100% better. In my office when I was assistant (state’s attorney), when the wind would blow, you’d see the blinds move. You could never get the temperature right, it was either hot or cold; with the central heat and air, it’s so much better now. Just even the paint has livened it up. The courtroom is back where we can use it; we had stuff coming from the ceiling. And the same thing in our offices and the law library — every time it rained, water leaked in and we’d have to cover tables. It was really a mess. It’s so much better and brighter; not perfect but they’ve done a really good job with it.”
That leaking ceiling in the large courtroom in the courthouse’s upstairs is the factor that initially kicked off the renovation. It was October 2016 when the judges “started having issues where water was continually coming off the roof. That kind of spurred it,” Farmer said.
But talks about what to do with the courthouse date back to November 2014 when RQAW Corp., an engineering and architecture firm located outside of Indianapolis, submitted a feasibility study of what could be done with the building and the then-recently donated Banterra Bank building.
“In 2014, we came up with a committee from the community, and we meet three or four times, and we looked at options of what’s the future of the courthouse — tear it down and rebuild; remodel the current courthouse; have a location here and have another across the street for the state’s attorney, public defender and probation attached to the detention center,” Farmer said. “There were a lot of options out there. The community expressed to us the courthouse is a staple to the community and they want to keep it here and remodel it. We went with what the people who came and took the interest in coming told us.”
That desire to keep the then-72-old building “didn’t surprise me,” Farmer said. “I value the courthouse. I value the architectural look we have. You look at some of the architectural things we have in the courthouse, you don’t see that in new buildings these days. It’s a beautiful facility, something the community can be proud of.”
With that decision made, RQAW began putting pricing together ranging from $2 million to $4.5 million. “Like everything, you have your dream list of what you’d like to do and your list of things you actually need to focus on,” Farmer said. “We focused on the lower number.”’
The county borrowed $2,545,000. The yearly payment is made on Dec. 1, with the first being made in 2018 and the final payment due in 2034. The current interest rate is 1.65%. For 2020, the payment is $130,000.
How to pay for it was put to the community. “Two times we tried to go to the ballot and ask for that 1% sales tax, and it was voted down both times, I think the last time it was very close, within a couple of votes. The decision was made,” Farmer said.
But due to the deterioration with the building — with the roof leaking, issues with the mortar and brick, the windrows being outdated — “we had to take action and still had to go forward. Our office holders reduced their budgets to help make the payment,” Farmer said.
In the meantime, some office holders also had to move out.
While the county commission was trying to figure out what to do with the courthouse, Banterra Bank was constructing a new facility nearby. The two entities made an agreement. Banterra donated its property — consisting of the original building at the corner of West Eighth and Ferry streets and and the Title Professionals Inc. building beside it on Market Street — to the county on the condition the county could sell it after three years and keep the money. The original bank property was appraised at over $3 million at the time of the agreement; the county is now asking $1.2 million. The other was appraised at $90,000.
“We hope to utilize the sale of those to make an extra payment” toward the renovation loan, Farmer said. “Our goal is to get this paid off as soon as possible.”
Over the three years of renovating the courthouse, the Banterra building became “the Courthouse Annex,” and was retrofitted to house the court system offices — the courtroom, judges’ offices, Massac County Circuit Clerk, Massac County Probation, Massac County State’s Attorney office, the public defender and the Massac County coroner. They moved out in spring 2016 and returned this August.
The courthouse’s other offices — the Massac County Clerk, the Massac County Treasurer, the Massac County Assessor’s Office, Massac County General Assistance, Shawnee Development, the Massac County Emergency Management Agency office and the Massac County Commission — remained at the courthouse while renovations were taking place.
“It’s been a journey for a lot of these offices with construction in there every day. It’s been hectic,” Farmer said. “We had that one summer, around 2018, when they started pulling the windows out and the other crew wasn’t here to put the new ones in, and the windows were boarded up, and we didn’t have window air and had to bring in temporary air conditioners with tubes out the windows. It was miserable on the employees. I hated it, but we had to go through that to get it finished. Then with the law-related offices being at the other location, it was tough because some of their stuff might have been here.
“It’s been a lot of burden on a lot of people,” he continued. “We appreciate how much the employees of the courthouse have helped us through this transition. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of people moving back and forth and being patient while construction was working in there office. Hopefully things have gotten back to normal as we’ve moved back together in one location.”
RQAW developed the courthouse renovations into two phases and contracts.
The firsts phase was to get the building in the dry. That contract was won by Evard-Strang Construction out of Marion in the amount of $874,763. As the general contractor, they started in December 2017 subbing out the work for a brand new roof on the building, new windows throughout and tuckpointing the upper half of the building before glazing the brick of the entire structure with a weather protectant.
Phase 2 was carried out by another general contractor, Heartland Mechanical Contractors out of Murphysboro, for $1,051,800. It consisted of five main projects:
• Installing a brand new HVAC system throughout the building, which replaced the window air units and the gas boiler. “We have central heat and air in every office and in the hallways. It’s all computerized and makes a controlled atmosphere throughout the whole building. It’s more economical,” Farmer said.
• Updating the electrical where needed throughout the building, including the installation of a new electric panel to replace the outdated one.
• Replacing the foyer doors at the main entrances with thicker ones. “The ones we had before wouldn’t open and close right and were thin,” Farmer said. “The new ones help separate the main part of the building from the temperature outside.”
• Installing drop ceilings throughout the building to accommodate the duct work of the new HVAC unit.
• Installing new high efficiency LED lighting throughout the building.
After Phase 2 came the remodeling of offices with using several local contractors — Brian Gentry Construction, North Avenue Construction, Russell Electric, Air Pro Heating & Cooling, A&W Plumbing and Hitterman’s — providing the work or supplies for:
• Repainting the entire interior of the courthouse with the office holders picking out their own paint colors.
• Installing new countertops in offices where needed.
• Updating bathrooms throughout the building to make them ADA accessible with new toilets and stalls.
• Installing new carpet in the offices and courtrooms. Installing new tile flooring in the basement hallway. Buffing and waxing the remaining hallway floors.
“The courthouse is looking lots better. It’s not as dark and gloomy as it once was,” said Lorie Walters, supervisor of Massac County General Assistance
Another addition to the courthouse, but not part of the renovation, will be a generator for the Massac County Emergency Management Agency office. Director Brian Horn obtained a $6300 EMPG matching grant for the 14 KW Generac generator. The labor cost of $6200 is being covered by a transfer of funds within the EMA budget. The entire project is $12,500.
“We felt it was vital to get a generator into that office because he deals directly with the state anytime we have an emergency within the county,” Farmer said “We’ve had our share of emergencies in the county over the last 10 years, and we felt like it was a good investment for the community.”
During the renovation, the opportunity was used to relocate a few offices. The biggest change is the switching of the Treasurer’s Office and the Circuit Clerk’s Office.
The Treasurer’s Office is now located to the left of the courthouse’s main entrance. The Circuit Clerk’s Office is now in the hallway behind the courthouse’s main entrance. The move, Farmer said, “makes it easier for the Circuit Clerk and the judges’ staffs to work back and forth together without having to come through the hallway every time” as there is a back hallway that runs between the three locations of the new Circuit Clerk’s office, the small courtroom and the large courtroom. In addition, being on the outer wall near the main entrance provides a payment drop box for the Treasurer’s Office.
Farmer pointed out the large courtroom’s renovations provided options that weren’t available before, including a closed-circuit TV screen allowing first appearances to be done from the jail and lawyers’ tables are set up to accommodate electronic needs.
But it’s the appearance of the room that stands out to Farmer as Massac County Judge Cord Witting chose to paint the architectural beams in green and place a photo of Abraham Lincoln on Witting’s left hand side of the room. “The windows give a beautiful view,” Farmer said.
Outside the courthouse, the black iron rails and benches were repainted. New gutters were installed at the top of the roof. A new gas line goes up the side of the building for the HVAC’s heating unit. The outer basement entrance has a new roof.
Farmer said there are just a few more projects to be done of the course of the next month —
replacing the exterior lighting, replacing the glass in the exterior doors and tree trimming at the handicap ramp — plus re-striping the parking lot around the square and cleaning up the outside.
An open house is being discussed for the spring when COVID restrictions are lifted.
“The commissioners appreciate the residents being patient with us over this three years of remodeling,” Farmer said. “We know it’s been inconvenient to go to two different locations. We’re happy to get everybody back in the same building. We think it’s something the county’s residents will be very proud to see as they drive by or as they come into the courthouse.”