Houghton County courthouse may be in need of repairs

HOUGHTON – Needed repairs to the Houghton County Courthouse were the subject of a presentation to the Houghton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Karin Cooper, project architect at U.P. Engineers & Architects, presented the draft of a condition assessment and maintenance report to the board at its monthly meeting.

UPEA rented a lift to examine the towers for stability to find out from where pieces of sandstone were falling.

“The building is in very sound condition, but the sandstone is one of the weakest links, and the mortar holding the sandstone together,” she said. “We would consider that to be a high priority, as far as the maintenance schedule goes.”

The spalling of sandstone is worse near the ground, because of the dual forces of rain and splashback, Cooper said.

“I don’t think anyone needs to be afraid that in most of our lifetimes it’s going to fall down due to the erosion,” she said. “But the longer you leave it that way, the worse it’s going to get, and it’s going to be more and more expensive to fix it.”

It could be done as an ongoing expense of $100,000 to $150,000 a year, or through a lump sum from some revenue source, Cooper said. The expense would be about $600,000 over 10 years.

Cooper said some grants may be available for work. However, she said, government entities are less able to obtain government grants than private businesses because they have means such as taxation available.

UPEA recommended the county set aside money through a millage or other means to fund repairs to the building.

“I think it’s a very important component of our county,” Cooper said. “It’s well-used, it’s a beautful building and they don’t make them like this anymore. As a resident of the county, I’d like to see it maintained and preserved. And I’ve heard that from others as well.”

Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said he thought the county should be able to get some grants.

“They may not always be government dollars, but there’s some foundations out there that may very well chip in, along with a recorded match, obviously,” he said.

Wood window frames were put in at the courthouse about 25 years ago, and require continual maintenance, Cooper said. A wood window with an aluminum exterior could be used to reduce those expenses. They’re also permitted now in historical renovations, said Commissioner Tim Palosaari.

Controller Eric Forsberg said improvements in the interior are mostly concerned with insulation in the attic.

Forsberg said they will eventually have to find alternate storage space for documents in the attic. The weight of the boxes is causing the floor to sag. In Houghton County Circuit Court, directly below it, the sagging has caused plaster to fall off the ceiling.

“The judge volunteered to wear a hard hat, but we’ve got to patch that up,” Forsberg said.

In other action, the county board:

put out for bid the installation of bulletproof glass in the probate court judge office, setting a budget of $15,819.

sold a scale from the former transfer station to MJO for $2,000, contingent upon them filling in the hole afterwards.

approved Koskela signing remonumentation grant contracts.

appointed Gary Capello to the Department of Human Services board.

voted to readvertise for a vacancy on the Houghton Keweenaw Recreation Authority, this time specifying that the applicant must have a letter of support from the recreation groups they wish to represent.

appointed Randy Maleug to the Revolving Loan Fund board.

approved advertising for a position on the Houghton County Road Commission board.