Despite incurring additional costs to repair crumbling mortar and to mitigate previously undetected asbestos, the old Blaine County Courthouse roof project is well worth its $1.3 million cost, project managers said Tuesday.
The courthouse in Hailey was built in 1893-1894, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its roof has been replaced only once, in 1962, and decades of ice buildup have resulted in water leakage that has rotted parts of the building’s upper structure. In addition, antiquated construction methods left the walls vulnerable to earthquakes.
Some structural stability work was undertaken after a crack occurred in the southwest corner of the building during the 6.9-magnitude Borah earthquake in 1983. The current work is intended to tie the structure together even better so it can withstand the next strong quake.
As workers began to dismantle the roof late last month, they discovered that more work would have to be done than was expected.
First, asbestos was found in the tape holding together ducts between the original and more recent ceilings, which are about 6 feet apart. Work was halted immediately on July 24 and the county commissioners held an emergency meeting during which they approved a change order for up to $30,000 to fund removal of the asbestos, which was carried out the next day by a specialized subcontractor.
“It was a pretty quick turnover to get the testing done to see what it was, to get EPA approval to do the work and to restart on Monday,” County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said.
A week later, when the roof soffits and fascia were removed, workers discovered more damage than they had expected. Water had seeped through the roof and eroded the mortar throughout the upper few layers of bricks at the northeast corner of the building.
“It was almost like dry-stacked bricks,” County Commissioner Larry Schoen said. “With a snow load, [those layers] could have collapsed.”
During a commissioners meeting Tuesday, project architect Steve Trout said he and construction managers Kreizenbeck Constructors are looking for a solution for how to create a solid structure that doesn’t encapsulate moisture. He said they are consulting with other architects and builders who have worked on similar old brick buildings.
“It’s good that we found it now,” Trout said. “It’s not in good shape at that corner.”
Schoen said in an interview that it remains to be seen how much that additional work will cost. He said the budget includes contingency money for unexpected developments.
“In this instance, we’re spending our just-in-case money,” he said.
In general, Trout said during the meeting, the walls are in good shape.
“The indications are that we shouldn’t have the same problems [elsewhere] that we’ve had on top where it’s been really, really wet,” he said in an interview.
However, he said the old bricks are soft, making it difficult to drill holes needed to pin timbers to them. The timbers, made of modern composite material, will connect the walls and support new trusses. Many more trusses will be installed than was done originally.
“We tie the walls to the roof and then we tie all the walls together so it’s one big box,” Trout said.
He said the work will result in a “seismic upgrade” of the roof.
In interviews, both Greenberg and Schoen acknowledged that there may come a time when repairing the old Blaine County Courthouse becomes too expensive to fund. However, they said, the current work was essential to protect county employees and the public.
Trout and Kreizenbeck Constructors Project Manager Graham Estep both said the $1.3 million project is much cheaper than constructing a new building.
“Our goal is to have this last for another 100 years,” Trout said. “I think that after we get done, it will just be maintenance.”
Schoen said that if county offices are ever moved from the building, it could become a new home for the Blaine County Museum.
“It’s a grand old historic building that just needs some TLC,” he said.
Greg Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org