Historic Courthouse to Get a Cool Renovation; Restoration, Additions to Be Done in a Year

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

Judges, lawyers, employees and visitors didn't have to use kerosene lanterns for light at the old Clay County Courthouse. The building was wired for electricity when it opened in Green Cove Springs in 1889.

Nor did anyone have to run outside to a privy when nature called. The two-story structure was designed, with comfort and convenience in mind, with indoor plumbing on the first and second floors.

But one thing was missing that would have made life a lot more bearable in the courthouse a century ago, especially on those hot, humid summer days: air-conditioning. It didn't exist when the courthouse opened and the building continued to rely on fans all those years.

Now, some 114 years after it opened and 28 years after it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 19th-century building will become air-conditioned as part of a final restoration project to return the structure to public use.

"It'll take six to eight air-conditioning pumps to cool the place," said Morris Williams, a county planner who has been overseeing the restoration work for the past few years.

Air-conditioning is just one part of the final phase of work that will begin in the next couple of months to complete the restoration of the interior of the courthouse. The work, including new walls, ceilings, floors, windows and woodwork, will cost about $700,000.

The county has advertised for bids from contractors, who must submit proposals by Jan. 5. The cost will be evenly split by the county and by the Florida Division of Historical Resources, which has awarded a $350,000 matching grant for the project.

The exterior restoration was completed about a year ago, leaving the structure looking essentially the way it did decades ago. But inside is a different matter.

Old plaster walls and ceilings have been knocked out and hauled away, leaving heart of pine wall studs and ceiling rafters exposed, waiting for new skin.

Wooden window casings and glass windows are in need of repair or replacement. Floors will need to be refinished or covered with new material; wooden staircases will be stripped, repaired and refinished; and new electrical wiring and plumbing will be installed.

In addition to air-conditioning, the building will be designed to provide another new feature to assure that nobody is denied access to the entire building, including the courtroom upstairs.

To comply with federal regulations governing access to public structures, space once occupied by a restroom just inside the main entrance off Walnut Street will be converted to a wheelchair lift vestibule to take handicapped visitors up to the second floor. …