PRESCOTT - County officials took a look at the condition of the downtown Prescott county courthouse Tuesday as they prepare for the most challenging part of the ongoing renovation project: repairing the settling that's occurred at all four granite staircases.
The three-phase upgrade effort has moved along smoothly, with crews repairing the aging sewage lines last summer, and currently modernizing the building's patchwork HVAC system, replacing the roof, and taking conduits off the exterior walls.
County Supervisor Tom Thurman, who has spearheaded the project since 2011, when he proposed returning the courthouse to its original 1916 exterior appearance while upgrading its systems, said the settling can be repaired.
"It's fixable," he said, but it won't be easy. "You've got be able to jack it up on both (the Cortez and Montezuma street) sides, and that means we have to take the bathrooms out, jack it up, and put it all back."
He likened the project to a giant puzzle, where crews would "piece by piece, take it apart, and put it off to the side, then remove all the concrete, fix the footings, and then put it back together."
County Facilities Supervisor Ken Van Keuren said the new steps will be better sealed to keep water out. "That's where we're getting the deterioration and settling, from all the water penetration through the steps themselves," he said.
Complicating efforts is the fact that the building has to remain open for court business, so workers will be able to repair only two sides at a time.
"We'll do two one year and we'll do two the next year," Thurman said.
"We also looked at the terra cotta on the very top of the courthouse, where we've lost a lot of our finish," Van Keuren said. "If you look up there, you'll see some yellowing. It looks like it's dirty, but it's not - the glazing has worn off after a hundred years."
Van Keuren said the county will probably take bids for the third phase of the project in February 2014.
It's too early to estimate the cost of the third phase, Thurman said. He originally suggested a $2 million price tag in 2011, but phases I and II have already cost about $1.8 million. The money has come from the county's capital reserve fund, and that's where the phase III funding will come from as well.
Thurman said the project is worth the expense. "The courthouse is an icon not only for Prescott and Yavapai County, it's an icon for the state of Arizona," he said.