If you passed the Johnston County Courthouse in Smithfield last week, you might have noticed the hard-hatted men riding cherry pickers and working precariously close to rooftop ledges.
The county has undertaken a project to restore the exterior of the courthouse’s oldest section, which was built in 1921.
As the building approaches its 100th year of service, the time came for maintenance that will preserve the building for years to come, Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said.
“It’s a real crown jewel, if you ask me, as most old courthouses are in their communities,” he said.
Johnston County Commissioners awarded the $314,347 project to Baker Restoration, a division of Baker Roofing. Work began June 8, and the company has 75 days to complete the contract. The county hopes to see the project completed in 60 days, Hester said.
In order to avoid disrupting court, which is still held in the old courthouse, most of the labor will occur Saturday through Tuesday, including Sundays, Hester said.
The most critical improvements will help to keep water from finding its way into the building, said Daniel Clifton, the county’s facilities superintendent. The seepage has not yet led to mold, he said, and that’s part of what the county hopes to prevent.
To do that, Clifton said, the renovators will work painstakingly to replace all of the grout and fill in surface cracks that have formed over the years. That includes filling cracks in the steps visitors use to access the building.
“They’re taking grinders and cutting the old grout out and replacing it, so everything will have a new grout line,” Clifton said. “That’s the time-consuming part.”
The stone ledge around the building has also deteriorated over the years to the point that water no longer runs off when it rains, Clifton said. To fix that, the workers will lay a metal frame over the existing stone and fill it in with a new facade that resembles the original construction.
The makeover will also improve the looks of the historic building. That includes replacing some of the ornamental balusters, or spindles, that line the top of building, Clifton said. Some of those have been replaced over the years with lower-quality balusters, and those will get an upgrade.
Because of the crumbling exterior, the county had installed a grate around the top of the building to protect pedestrians from falling pieces of stone. Once the renovations are complete, that eyesore can come down for good.
The old section of the courthouse also needs a new roof, Hester said, and the county plans to address that need in about a year.
Staff has started seeking estimates for the work, Clifton said, which is already overdue.
“It’s an older roof that should have probably been replaced five or six years ago,” he said.