Courthouse needs more plaster work

Courtesy photo / Chris Cook of Albert Michaels Conservation Inc. presented one of 13 restored wooden filigrees that are going to be returned this week to the top of the cathedral-style windows in Courtroom 2 in the Blair County Courthouse.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — More plaster repair work will be needed inside the Blair County Courthouse, the result of measures taken to stop water from leaking into the structure.

A month ago, commissioners authorized about $5,000 in emergency repairs so plywood boxes could immediately be built on the second floor of the courthouse, around areas where plaster pieces had fallen and were in danger of continuing to fall.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners learned of additional plaster deterioration, also on the older side of the courthouse’s second floor.

As a result, commissioners authorized spending $4,964 for Albert Michaels Conservation Inc. to temporarily address the newest deterioration.

Because the moisture from the leaks is gone, the affected plaster is drying out, resulting in peeling and flaking and the potential for falling pieces, Chris Cook

of Albert Michaels Conservation Inc. told commissioners.

Using a layout of the courthouse’s second floor, Cook pointed to “bubbling” plaster above the middle stained glass window in Courtroom 1, where President Judge Elizabeth Doyle holds court. That’s the same courtroom where a plywood box was built in the corner to catch falling plaster.

Cook said there’s also a hole in Courtroom 1’s ceiling, created when loose plaster was removed.

Deteriorated plaster has also been found above Judge Wade Kagarise’s chambers in Courtroom 2, at the rear of Courtroom 2 and in the hallway outside Courtroom 2, Cook said.

In the area outside Courtroom 2, the plaster is close to the ceiling, with flakes descending onto a visitors’ bench.

Blair County Director of Public Works Rocky Greenland said he might recommend some safety measures to be taken while the deteriorating plaster is being removed or addressed.

“It’s a roll of the dice as to when it would fall,” Greenland said.

As for future work, County Administrator Helen Schmitt indicated that it must be handled by a qualified artisan, who must receive prevailing wage rates so the county is in compliance with labor laws.

“This is not just plaster work,” Greenland said. “It’s going to take someone with knowledge of plaster, knowledge of historic buildings, someone who knows what happens when you pull away a section of that plaster and how much plaster will remain secure.”

Replacing the damaged plaster involves a multi-step restoration process, Cook said.

Greenland said he wouldn’t assign county personnel to the project because this project requires an expertise with historic plaster restoration work.

“Part of what we’re tearing out is plaster patchwork that was done in the past,” Greenland said. “And it didn’t hold up.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Cook also presented one of 13 restored wooden filigrees that are going to be returned this week to the top of the cathedral-style windows in Courtroom 2.

Cook’s company removed multiple layers of paint from the filigrees and window frames, then repaired damaged wood and applied varnish.

“This is exactly what they would have looked like 150 years ago,” Cook said.

Cook also advised the commissioners: “There’s no need to ever go back to painting.”

Commissioners also agreed Tuesday to evaluate two of the three bids submitted for wooded slat window blinds that will replace the aged ones removed last year when the window restoration work began. The lowest bid came from Caldwell Windowares of Pittsburgh, at $6,579, and the next-to-lowest was submitted by Top-to-Bottom Interiors of Altoona, at $6,590. The highest bid of $12,825 did not include the required bid bond.

Project Architect David Albright told commissioners that he was pleased with the bids for a job that was anticipated to be more expensive.

“As soon as we get the filigrees up, they’ll come in and get the dimensions for the blinds,” Albright said.

While the windows appear to be the same size, Albright said they have slight difference that will affect the size of the blinds.

The county will not be purchasing new drapes to replace the aged drapes that previously framed the windows.

Those drapes did nothing more than hide deterioration and problems, Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.