Courthouse study may be updated

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Although most of the Washington County Courthouse’s structure remains strong some portions of it – in particular the tower – are weak enough to pose a public safety hazard.

That was the message about 20 officials, representatives of the newly-formed Friends of the Courthouse and members of the public heard during a special joint meeting of the Washington County Commissioners and Council held Thursday, Feb. 23, at the courthouse.

Frederick Herget, president of Arsee Engineers, Inc., a Fishers-based engineering firm, fielded questions about the courthouse.

The engineering firm completed a 2015 study that identified the tower as being the frailest portion of the structure. Herget said that portion of the structure remains most in danger of collapse.

“In my opinion, if you had a seismic event your clock tower would fall off,” Herget said.

Although work has been done at the courthouse, including tuckpointing, Herget said the work hasn’t been as “diligent” as it should be.

Although Herget acknowledged it has been a while since he reviewed the details contained in the report, he said his first priority would likely be to replace the loose stone in the tower to ensure public safety.

Lisa Thompson, representing the Friends group, asked Herget if any of the work done at the courthouse in the past several years is salvageable.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s OK,” Herget said.

The tower’s structure includes eight stone columns, four of which were fractured by a fire and three of which have suffered cracking, spalling and splitting. Herget said the tower should be reinforced by installing a metal band. When asked if the damaged masonry could support the metal band, he said it can. The work would be based on calculations by structural engineers that will consider factors including the strongest seismic event the area is likely to suffer.

Herget said his firm could revisit the study to update it and to prioritize work that must be done. It could also include the estimated costs of each phase of work. He was instructed to determine the cost of the update. His proposal will also include the cost of a consultation with architects who can advise the county on possible future uses of the building.

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