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Turn-of-the-century courthouse needs repairs

The two-story, brick courthouse was built in the Classic Revival style in 1900. It sits on a raised stone foundation. The Hubbard County Historical Society and Nemeth Art Center have proposed restoring the elegant cupola that once stood on the hipped rooftop. A structural engineer recently determined that existing tower framing could support a reconstructed cupola. (Submitted photos)

Hubbard County's historic courthouse was built 117 years ago.

Russell Brown, president of the Hubbard County Historical Society, met with the Hubbard County Board last week to address the building's electrical and fire safety issues.

It does not, for instance, currently have a fire alarm system.

Furthermore, some of its existing electrical components appear to be original.

Constructed in 1900, the old courthouse remained county headquarters until about 1975.

It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of properties deemed worthy of preservation.

Hubbard County owns the structure and leases it to the Hubbard County Historical Society, which in turn subleases space to the Nemeth Art Center, both are non-profit organizations. The current lease expires May 21, 2017.

The museum and art center are open May through September. The building is unheated during winter months.

At the Feb. 7 county board meeting, Brown inquired when negotiations would begin for a 2017-2037 lease between the county and the historical society.

County Attorney Don Dearstyne is reviewing the previous agreement, then Hubbard County Coordinator Deb Thompson will set up a lease meeting.

Building assessment

In May 2016, Michael J. Burns Architects Ltd. was contracted to perform a "conditions assessment" of the historic courthouse. A $12,500 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society paid for the service, Brown said.

The architectural firm conducted a walkthrough and reviewed the structural, mechanical and electrical integrity of the building. They reported their findings in a detailed report, along with a historical overview, recommendations, cost estimates and drawings.

While the original masonry, tin ceilings, wooden stairs, glass, windows and doors remain in good condition, other areas are in acute need of repair. The September 2016 report highlights several code deficiencies that must be corrected to meet current electrical and life safety standards.

"The wiring is substandard by any means, at best, and they've made some recommendations in the report," Brown told the county board.

In order to comply with current codes, the building needs emergency lighting (both interior and exterior), lighting controls, upgraded outlets and sprinkler system monitoring if a sprinkler system is installed.

Existing electrical panels are outdated. Some have a maximum rating of 70 amperes, yet are fed with a 100-amp breaker.

There's also a patchwork of modified lighting among some original lighting fixtures. The museum is utilizing fluorescent lamps that are obsolete, according to the report.

Some of the existing receptacle outlets are original to the building and are ungrounded, two-prong types.

"Newer receptacle outlets are the grounded three-prong type; however, it is unclear if the wiring complies with code," the report says.

Burns Architects also recommended upgrading electrical service to three-phrase, upgrading lighting for energy efficiency and upgrading telephone and network connectivity, plus provide power to new mechanical equipment.

The estimated cost is $163,250.

"Obviously, their estimate of $163,000 is very generous to whoever would be looking at bidding that kind of comprehensive restructuring," Brown said.

The old courthouse is a framed building with brick veneer, he pointed out. It has the potential for a huge electrical-type fire, which would threaten the neighboring new government center and law enforcement center.

"It would be terrible to lose that building and everything in it, but it would be even more terrible for the taxpayers of Hubbard County to have serious damage to not only this building, but the law enforcement center as well, because of proximity," he said.

Brown said he's not advocating for a total upgrade in 2017, "but what I am advocating is that you take a serious look at this because this is serious. Whenever you have a situation with electricity, that it's nothing to mess around with."

"We don't want this to happen, but if something were to happen are we adequately protected if something would happen to the structure of the building, insurance-wise?" asked Commissioner Dan Stacey.

"The museum building is covered under MCIT coverage. Liability and contents are not covered under our policy. That is the responsibility of the museum," Hubbard County Coordinator, Deb Thompson responded.

"We carry the liability insurance, but the Historical Society couldn't even start to afford to insure the artifacts in the building because you have hundreds of thousands of dollars of irreplaceable value there," Brown noted.

"One thing that disturbed me as I read this report is that this is a building we are allowing the public to enter and it doesn't meet code," Commissioner Charlene Christenson said. "And I agree, we need to take a serious look at this and decide what we're going to do with it."

"We probably can't afford to make it meet code," Commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

"Are there things that we can break down and do a little at a time?" Christenson asked.

"In the interim, maybe we need to see what that cost would be until the wheels of government decide what we are going to do?" suggested Stacey.

"I'm not asking us to make a decision today, but I don't think this is something that we should just file away. This is something we need to look at," said Christenson.

"Now structurally, there are a couple of areas that are in need of attention but they're minor compared to something like this. This to me stuck out like a sore thumb and I went through the whole report," Brown said.

Structurally sound

"Overall, this structure is in good serviceable condition at the present time and has aged very well over the course of its lifetime," according to the report. "The central area of the building is at a lower elevation than the perimeter."

This is typical in structures of heavy self-weight, said the architect. Another source of the "interior settlement" is likely due to the eight "extremely heavy" safety vaults and "concentrate load in their respective areas."

There is local, moisture damage in the medical display area of the museum due to surface water draining into a window sill. This can be remedied by installing drain tile, waterproofing and board insulation around the perimeter of the building.

Failing roof

The asphalt shingle roofing is "in failing to poor condition," writes Burns Architects. Cornice metal work around the courthouse is fine, but metal and roofing membrane at the roof's peak is also in "poor condition."

The Hubbard County Board has voiced its support of a grant application to repair the roof, add an elevator so all levels are handicapped accessible and restore the elegant cupola that originally stood on the hipped rooftop. The Hubbard County Historical Society and Nemeth Art Center are pursuing a Minnesota State Historical Society Cultural and Heritage grant. The conditions assessment was a required part of the grant process.

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