JEFFERSON — Staff of the historic Marion County Courthouse on Wednesday teamed up to host a cleanup event ahead of the downtown Jefferson building’s upcoming renovations.
The landmark is getting a head-to-toe overhaul after a couple of decades of Marion County residents working to raise money and earn grants to cover its renovation costs, and county staff gathered Wednesday to help move along the process as part of the “Marion County Courthouse Cleanup Day.”
“In order to save some time and money, we called a cleanup day, with the help of the road and bridge crews, county commissioners, county auditor, the county judge’s bailiff and myself,” Marion County Judge Leward LaFleur said on Thursday. “We moved out two dump truck loads of junk. It was good fellowship for our road and bridge crews to work together.”
LaFleur rewarded the group’s hard work with pizza in celebration.
Next up, the county is set to meet on June 12 with the project’s architect, construction manager and representatives from the Texas Historical Commission, who will oversee the project.
LaFleur said he hopes to see hammers swinging at the courthouse by the end of the month.
The historical Marion County Courthouse, 102 West Austin St., is getting the much-needed renovation after county commissioners managed to put up $1 million of county money, along with a $4.7 million grant awarded last spring from the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP).
“We have been trying for this grant for almost 20 years,” LaFleur said in May. “Others long before me began working on this and the county commissioners managed to save and set aside $1 million for matching renovation costs throughout the past 20 years so we could get the grant.”
Former Marion County Judge Lex Jones and LaFleur traveled to round 10 of the Texas Historical Commission’s grant testimonials and the two men pleaded again for the county to receive the money to restore its 1913 courthouse.
“The total renovation costs are $5.7 million,” LaFleur said. “The bid we awarded was for $5.4 million because we wanted to have that cushion for anything that might come up. There’s no way the county would have been able to raise that kind of money on its own, so we really needed to this grant to renovate our beautiful courthouse.”
The bids for the project were awarded to Komatsu Architecture in Fort Worth as the architect and Joe R. Jones Construction in Weatherford as the construction company.
The project will be strictly overseen by the Texas Historical Commission to preserve historical accuracy as the renovation and restoration proceeds.
“Ninety-percent of this project is restoration,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to be restored according to historical record — the best historical record that we can gather.
“There’s not a lot of pictures of what the courthouse used to look like. I think the Jefferson Historical Museum might have a couple but that’s it,” he said. “We have been having to look at our sister courthouse in Roberts County, in the Panhandle to try to determine what our courthouse looked like back then.”
The Roberts County Courthouse is almost completely identical to the almost 37,500 square foot, three-story building that makes up the Marion County Courthouse, as both were designed by Architect Elmer G. Withers.
“Really the only major difference between the two is that the Roberts County Courthouse has all its interior doors constructed at right angles throughout the building,” he said.
Most of the original features throughout the courthouse that will be restored to their original glory include the granite flooring and walls on the second floor as well as the judge’s bench in the courtroom on the top floor, a spiral staircase in the first floor “dungeon” that historically served as the records storage room and the seven original safes throughout the courthouse building, as well as the molding along the top of the ceiling in the judge’s courtroom.
Inside the judge’s chambers, there’s a lock box attached to the front of the judge’s bench that LaFleur said no key has been found to fit.
“I can’t wait to see what’s inside there and what else we might find as we get into the renovation and restoration,’ he said.
The total renovation/restoration project, once it begins, is set to take about 520 days to complete and LaFleur said the county will host a ribbon cutting event for community members to come out and enjoy once the building is finally complete.
The full inside and outside exterior renovation and restoration will provide an updated, historically and accurately restored courthouse for residents to use and enjoy.
The courthouse employees moved out of the courthouse in July of 2018 after news of the awarded grant was made. Offices of the almost 16 county employees, including LaFleur, the county clerk, district attorney, county treasurer, constable and district clerk will be housed inside the courthouse once it is reopened.
The most recent work done on the courthouse was in 2009, when an emergency grant from the THCPP allowed the county to replace all of the windows in the building.
The project, though it is set to be a large one, as the 106-year-old courthouse has never undergone a full renovation, will be something the county residents can be proud of, LaFleur said.
“This is a beautiful courthouse and the Roberts County Courthouse looks beautiful now after its renovation,” he said. “All of the paint colors will be restored to historical accuracy, which was actually a kind of mint green.”
LaFleur said he would like to see the contractors use local subcontractors for the project as much as possible but most of the project’s historical aspect requires specific products restored in a specific way, which may require subcontractors from across the U.S.
“We had 28 different companies show up to our pre-bidding and they were from all across the country,” LaFleur said. “A lot of this restoration requires a certain kind of person and a certain kind of company — it takes a lot of specialty work.”
LaFleur said he’s grateful to the THC for granting the money for the restoration and renovation.
“I’m just blessed to be a part of the back end of this process,” he said. “Our next step is the pre-construction meeting with Komatsu, myself, Joe R. Jones Construction and our Texas Historical Commission representative.
“After that, we will hopefully get the notice to proceed from the commission itself and then we will start swinging hammers.”
The THCPP awarded matching grants totaling more than $19 million to 15 counties to aid in preservation of their historic courthouses, including four grants for full historic restorations.
Many Texas’ more than 240 historic courthouses are in disrepair due to insufficient funding for building care and maintenance, the Texas Historical Commission said in a press release. There are 74 participants in the THCPP whose needs for additional money has not yet been met.