Work begins on Courtroom 2

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Highway and Maintenance Department workers begin demolition of the judges chambers, office and bench in Courtroom 2 at the Blair County Courthouse on Tuesday and will continue through the rest of the week.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — In the 1970s, when the Blair County Courthouse underwent renovations, a judge’s chambers, office and bench were constructed inside the largest courtroom.

On Tuesday, those structures were torn down.

“We always said it would happen someday, and someday came today,” Blair County Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva said.

The retired judge stopped Tuesday at the now-closed Courtroom 2 where she used a sledgehammer and mallet to take a few swings at the structures being demolished in preparation for a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.

Kopriva, after donning overalls to protect her clothing, swung hard to break through the manufactured wood paneling covering the outer side of structure’s walls. After creating a hole, Kopriva then traded the sledgehammer for a mallet and broke through more paneling, prompting splinters to fly, including one that went into her hair.

Courtesy photo Clad in a set of overalls, Blair County Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva takes a swing at the wood paneling in Courtroom 2 at the Blair County Courthouse on Tuesday.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Kopriva, who took the bench in 1987 and wrapped up 30 years of service in December.

Her memories of using Courtroom 2, she said, are often associated with having trouble hearing and asking people to repeat themselves.

She also remembers her reaction when Commissioner Terry Tomassetti showed an interest in addressing the courtroom. At that time, the courtroom was plagued not only by poor acoustics, but also by water leaks, damaged plaster and a patchwork of repairs that failed to correct problems.

“I remember the excitement I felt when Terry brought me in here four years ago and said he’d like to restore the courtroom,” the senior judge recalled Tuesday. “I said ‘Hallelujah!'”

Tomassetti, who was on site Tuesday, was pleased to see the job get started.

He and Director of Public Works Rocky Greenland also had a chance to see a previously hidden section of the lower portion of a decorated 25-foot high Gothic arch that reaches close to the ceiling. Work done so far Tuesday unveiled the likelihood that the 1970s remodeling was built around the lower portions of the arch and did little damage.

“Maybe Oliver Williams will have to delete that chapter about this being

the worst courtroom,” Tomassetti said in reference to a guidebook that Williams authored in 2001 about Pennsylvania courthouses.

In his book, Williams referenced Blair County’s largest courtroom and its 1877 origin.

“It is worthy studying for a moment, even though it has been desecrated by 1970s alterations,” Williams wrote. “It is one of the more insensitive butchering jobs in this part of Pennsylvania, which takes some doing.”

Still, the chambers, office and bench created inside the courtroom — originally used by Judge Robert H. Campbell and many others — served a purpose for 40 to 50 years.

And the reason that they’re being demolished now is because they interfere with the HVAC system’s design and anticipated operation.

In February, commissioners agreed that they wanted to move forward with all of the efforts linked to the HVAC system and related remodeling projects that are expected to last 18 months. The approved contract, at $2.1 million, also calls for plaster repairs and painting in Courtroom 2 and Courtroom 1, located across the hall, which also has been subject to water leaks that were addressed. The county is covering the project’s cost with money in its 2017 bond issue.

Kopriva has praised current commissioners for moving forward with repairs to the courthouse.

“We can’t let this building deteriorate and fall down,” she said Tuesday. “Where could we ever build another? This building is an heirloom.”