Sue Carter, representing the Karnes County Historical Society, presented a full color rendering depicting what the courthouse is expected to look like after a full restoration.
Carter said a fully restored courthouse could help the people of Karnes County work toward a higher level of law and order.
“A courthouse is directly related to the law and order of a county,” Carter said. “All of the supporters of courthouse restoration and the Karnes County Historical Society – we all support and know how important law and order is for he county and the roads, and we have never advocated one over the other, but we still maintain that we do now have the resources to do all three.”
Carter then introduced Architect Lewis Fisher, who has been working with Karnes County for ten years in preparing plans to repair and restore the courthouse. She also introduced M. J. Boyle, the contractor for the Phase 1 courthouse restoration project, Curtis Hunt, a specialist on brick and masonry construction, and architect Sharon Fleming with the Texas Historical Commission.
Lewis Fisher presented a slideshow to the court, describing the plans that he designed for a fully restored courthouse.
Fisher said he expected that if the courthouse bond election, passes, he expects and is looking forward to working with the county on repairs and restoration to the landmark courthouse.
Pictures were displayed showing cracks in the exterior walls of the 117-year-old building.
“There is a great need for this building to be renovated,” Fisher said.
Fisher described details in the plans such as the restored turrets and clock tower and then described the floor plans and how they would change as part of the project.
The plans show a two-story tall courtroom, as the key working space of the building on the second floor, which Lewis said will be dramatically larger than the current district courtroom and is designed to reflect the seriousness and importance of the court.
A county courtroom is also part of the design on the first floor of the building, with ample space to meet the needs of this space.
Larger public restrooms are part of the design of the second floor as well as a large jury room, Fisher said. The third floor will primarily be used as office space for the District Clerk’s office.
Fisher briefly summarized the goals of the project:
The removal of the additions which are putting stress on the rest of the building
• Strengthening of the foundations
• Restoration of all of the brick
Replacement of all of the mortar that is crumbling
• Repairs to the limestone trim around the exterior windows
• Reconstruction of the four pointed turrets
• Reconstruction of the steeply pitched Mansard feature
• Strengthening of the roof and reframing of the attic for use as a mechanical area
• Replacement of the clay tile roof with original slate
• Reconstruction of the clock tower
• All new contemporary building systems including all new central heat and air, all new electrical, all new plumbing, all new conduits for telephone and data lines, automatic fire sprinkler system for the entire building
Fisher described how Phase 1 will remove the wings and then repair and restore the side of the building where the wings were attached. The Phase 1 project involves much more work including new windows, a new west doorway and repairs to the roof.
The Texas Historical Commission grant process was explained by Fisher to the court as an opportunity to pay for two thirds of the proposed work through state grant funding.
“By January 31, the state will have made a decision about who is going to get that money and how much,” Fisher said. “And then you will have money to match with the bond election funds and you will know how much money you can proceed with. That way, with the bond funds and the state funds, none of these funds are coming out of the general fund taxpayer dollars, they are either going to be bond funds or they are going to be Texas Historical Commission funds.”
Fisher said the plans can be adjusted to do a smaller scale project.
“If you are able to get enough money that you can do a $5 million project, then we will adjust the plans to do a $5 million project and then we will press forward and execute that plan,” Fisher said. “Then in the next two years, when that projected is completed, you apply again for funds and then you finish up the building hopefully in the next phase of work.”
“Entering into any kind of a building process, whether it is a church or a county, there is always kind of an act of faith – that you have to take the first step and you have to move forward,” Fisher said. “I think that’s where we are right now. It is up to the voters to give the go ahead. If the voters don’t vote then this whole project is a dead deal but if they vote, then it is time to move forward and we can see a restored courthouse in the next three or four years.”
George Hyde, an attorney hired to represent Commissioners Court, asked Fisher some specific questions about the proposed construction project, especially in regard to the foundation and the plans to stabilize the foundation.
“If the county decided to keep the wings, what would prevent you from using that stabilization technique on the foundation for the wings, as well?” Hyde asked.
“It’s a whole ‘nother ball park,” Fisher explained, “because they are not the same kind of building.”
Fisher pointed out the differences in construction between the original masonry building and the added wings, which are reinforced concrete.
“They have different foundations,” Fisher said, explaining that it would be impractical and cost-prohibitive to include the wings in the design of the project. “You are building into a water table and you are trying to pour concrete into a wet area, it becomes much more complicated, to save 4,000 square-feet of space.”
“We can tear of the 4,000 square-feet of space and save the county a lot of money,” Fisher said.
Hyde then talked about the 2005 easement between the county and THC and how there is a possible legal responsibility to restore and maintain the courthouse and the possibility of a potential lawsuit to dissolve the easement.
“Whether or not it (the easement) is enforceable is a legal issue that we can fight about and spend money on or you can use that in deciding how you want to go about the courthouse restoration,” Hyde said. “The answer to the question with regard to what you do with this town square is not over whether or not the bond election passes,” Hyde said. “You still have a legal issue that you have to deal with which is either restore it to the 2005 requirements, or tear it down, or put a fence around it... you are going to have some other obligations that you have to be aware of.”
County Commissioner Carl Hummel then joined the conversation between Fisher and Hyde.
“George, you are a very good attorney,” Hummel said. “I think everybody realizes why you are here – you are here to make money. If we restore this courthouse, then you are not going to make a dime. If we break the contract, or we get into a big legal battle, then you are going to make lots of money. I understand.”
Sue Carter said the expected cost of maintaining the the existing courthouse will exceed the cost of a restoration and the ongoing maintenance costs of a restored courthouse.
Hyde mentioned the possibility of restoring the courthouse with the wings intact.
“You can’t restore the courthouse with the wings on,” Fisher said. “That’s not the right terminology.”
Hyde said it could be restored circa 1924.
Brick construction expert Curtis Hunt offered a comment about the problems the wing was causing with the original courthouse.
“You are going to have to completely restructure the wings so it gets off those brick walls,” Hunt said. “This will cost you a lot of money and will change the whole system up. You have got the weight on top of the brick walls which aren’t designed for that. They are designed to carry their load and carry that courthouse as you see it. It is not designed to carry the load from that wing. You have got to figure out some way to come in and structurally hold the wings up and get them off the courthouse because they should not be on there.”
“So the 1924 renovation was defectively designed?” Hyde asked.
“Yes,” Hunt said. “There you go. Right on the money.”
“This is the more economical way,” Fisher said, “to restore just the original brick building. That’s what the THC has money for.”
The discussion continued in detail and at times became emotional, as Hyde pressed the architect with more and more questions, which Fisher described as “leading.”
Mike Boyle, contractor for the Phase 1 project joined the conversation.
“When you award the contract for the foundation – I guess that would be Phase 2, it will include all the footings,” Boyle said. “Those footings are already designed. I’ve seen those plans. The engineer is a darn good one and has designed a system to go in and underpin that existing building with what I think of as the backbone that you put under the building, pieces at a time. When you are done you have a new, complete, monolithic, backbone – or foundation under that existing old building.”
Curtis Hunt addressed a question about the quality of the brick in the original courthouse. Hunt said the quality of the brick is not an issue, although work on the mortar would have to be done because Portland cement was not available at the time the building was constructed.
“I feel certain that the quality of the brick will be okay,” Hunt said. “The structure of the wall – the integrity of the wall is still intact – if you get those stupid wings off there.. so you can get it in use as a functional solid masonry wall to hold up its existing self.”
“I feel like the masonry on this building can be restored and fixed and it will look like the picture that you have got right there,” Hunt said, referring to the rendering displayed at the beginning of the presentation.