Cortland County Legislature to consider rehab study for courthouse entryway stairs

(Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith).

Members of Cortland County’s Buildings and Grounds Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a contract for up to $70,000 with a Syracuse architecture firm to complete specifications on a rehabilitation and replacement project for the county courthouse entryway stairs.

The resolution will now go to the county legislature on Jan. 22 for approval. The committee’s vote on the study, which if approved further would be commissioned to Bell and Spina Architects in Syracuse, signifies the next step in the county’s rehabilitation plan for the courthouse. The committee also previously agreed for Chuck Miller (County Director of Buildings and Grounds) to seek bids for a $350,000 project that would rebuild the courthouse’s roof.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD2) presented new updates on the courthouse rehabilitation project based on input from a working group of stakeholders and county officials tasked with overseeing the courthouse rejuvenation project.

“There is funding available currently for us to actually get some work done on the courthouse and we don’t want to miss an opportunity by waiting another year or miss the building cycle for this year,” Harbin said. He referred to $1.1 million in the county’s building reserve account. “County Administrator Rob Corpora has penciled in $1 million from American Rescue Plan Act money that could be set aside for courthouse work.”

Harbin added the county commissioned the same architecture firm to execute cost assessments for courthouse repairs two years ago.

“The key findings were: skylight replacement, roof replacement, dome and cupola masonry, external doors, stairway entry repairs, and rotunda coverings,” he said. “All of this work added up to $3 million. They also recommended we look at the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) plan. That was an additional $2.7 million.”

Harbin said the estimates are bound to increase due to an across-the-board uptick in construction material costs. He added the first priority for the work group was to take on the roofing project previously described by Miller. 

“The next priority is the entrance door replacement, getting the key side doors taken care of, helping make those doors secure and bringing them in compliance with the historic nature of the courthouse,” Harbin said. 

Harbin said the restoration of the entryway stairs would be next on the list. Miller estimated this project would cost up to $750,000.

“The key thing on this phase of the project is that we really need to get into the specifications facing it,” Harbin said. “This is where we need an architecture firm to give us the specifications that are gonna be needed for that work.”

In order to seek state funding to partially cover the costs for the entry stairs repair, the county would require having that set of specifications, Harbin said.

“If we seek funding from the state, we would require shovel-ready projects,” he added. “The first step is having those specifications, knowing what it is going to take to get them in line, more so than the general guideline we have right now.”

The specifications could cost the county anywhere from $40,000- $70,000. 

Miller noted the county should take the courthouse’s 100-year anniversary into account when planning for construction. The courthouse will turn 100 next year.

“We need to think if we want to go into the 100-year anniversary and host (events and celebrations) when the building might be surrounded by scaffolding and the entire yard might be dug up,” Miller said. He noted he has already been asked about potentially hosting events at the courthouse site in celebration of the anniversary next year. “At this point we need to take control of that situation.”

Legislator Joseph Nauseef (R-LD12) said he hoped the anniversary will be a reason for the county to fix the entryway stairs. 

“I realize there are priorities on which steps to take, but I hope this is a way in which we can work on those steps before the 100-year anniversary,” he said. He referred to the stairs’ state of disrepair. “Those orange barricades (on the steps) have been up for more than 10 years. The entrance is the focal point of one of our most treasured assets and right now it doesn’t provide a very welcoming facade to that building.”

The other priorities for the county when it comes to fixing up the courthouse are the elevator replacement and a rotunda column covering. Details on these priorities have yet to be discussed.