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Century-old courthouse looks new again after restoration

Otwell & Associates/Courtesy photo<br>
Workers removed about 1,000 pounds of mostly steel debris stashed in hollow cornices at the top of the Yavapai County Courthouse.

Otwell & Associates/Courtesy photo<br> Workers removed about 1,000 pounds of mostly steel debris stashed in hollow cornices at the top of the Yavapai County Courthouse.

PRESCOTT - If you want a full view of the restoration of Prescott's centerpiece, Yavapai County Facilities Director Ken Van Keuren recommends a stroll up Union Street to a higher vantage point at sunset.

There you can see that the restoration of the Yavapai County Courthouse included the construction of two faux chimneys, a testimony to the effort to replicate the original architectural drawings for the nearly century-old structure.

One of the original chimneys served as a flue for the boiler that no longer sits in the basement, while the other was a vent, Van Keuren said. Both were torn down at some point.

Van Keuren loves the view of the courthouse from Union Street at sunset, as the natural light glows on the exterior granite that now appears much lighter after getting cleaned with a high-pressure water sprayer. The natural variation of color in each stone is visible now too, architect Bill Otwell noted.

The original drawings also featured window grills on the fourth-floor windows, and decorative glass prism blocks on top of the staircases. They were removed at some point but now they're back.

"The courthouse resembles the original plans now," Van Keuren said. "Pretty cool."

As he praised the efforts of Concord General Contracting and the support of the Board of Supervisors, Concord VP and Partner Jason Beaver also praised the Facilities Department and the Otwell architectural firm for their help.

"Overall, I thought the project went very well," Beaver said.

"I'm extremely excited about how it has changed its look," said Supervisor Tom Thurman, who was involved with the project oversight since he has extensive construction experience.

The job was a special challenge since most of the work had to be done at night while courts were not in session, Beaver said.

While final costs are not yet calculated, the Concord work is probably about $80,000 over the $2.5 million estimate.

Considering how much the stairs shifted because of unstable soils, and the huge amount of corroded steel that had to be replaced, county officials are happy that the project didn't cost even more.

"A lot of the corners (on top of the courthouse) were totally rotted out, so we had to completely rebuild some of the steel corners," Van Keuren said. "They were not real stable. It's a good thing we got in there and did what we did."

The unstable soils exist because of underground springs that flow from the southeast to the northwest side of the plaza and on to Granite Creek, Van Keuren said.

Approximately 1,000 pounds of mostly steel debris was discarded in the hollow cornices at the top of the courthouse during a previous renovation project, Otwell said. Concord workers removed all the debris.

The daily freeze-and-thaw cycle during winters takes a huge toll on historic Prescott buildings, Otwell said.

Workers coated all the steel and anchor bolts with corrosion-resistant paint to prevent rust, and they coated all the terracotta cornices with a compound to keep the exterior glaze from deteriorating.

And they replaced lots of corroded steel rods in the concrete beams that hold up the steps with steel that is wrapped in carbon fiber to keep out water.

Although the building will be 100 years old in 2016, it has one of the most modern heating and cooling systems in the nation. Only three percent have a fresh-air system that turns on when it senses high carbon dioxide levels, coupled with a variable refrigerant flow that moves heat from overheated areas to places that need cooling, Otwell said.

While Concord's work is done, county facilities workers are continuing with some of the interior work such as painting. They also will try to repair the historic concrete sidewalk curbs built by Works Progress Administration employees in the 1930s.

The courthouse entrance moved back from the west side to the east side on Monday, after county workers installed a new and improved security station.

Now the security officers won't have their backs to people exiting the building, and the screening process through the metal detector at the entrance is faster.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder

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