Major Renovation Needed to Preserve 1871 Courthouse

By Lisa Kopochinski

LANCASTER, Ohio—Fairfield County commissioners are considering a major renovation of the Fairfield County Courthouse that dates back to 1871.

While facilities manager Dennis Keller told the Lancaster Eagle Gazette recently that the building is in good shape structurally, problems do occur with a building of this age. For example, workers are currently repairing the soffit along the top of the building just under the roof. A major renovation in the coming years could cost approximately $4 million.

“We have it targeted at $4 million, but it could be more than that,” said Keller said in a statement. “It depends on how far you go with it.”

However, he said it would probably be a few years before the county has the money for it.

The project would include replacing the roof, down spouts, gutters and soffits, preserving the sandstone to stop its erosion, repairing or replacing railings and steps, and repairing some of the walls that are leaning.

“It could be everything like that on the outside,” added Keller. “The entrance doors. Just everything on what we call the envelope of the building.”

The building at High and Main streets in Lancaster has been a local fixture for nearly 150 years, as construction started in 1868 and was completed in 1871.

County departments are located in a number of different locations, including the adjacent Hall of Justice, which dates to 1975. However, in 1871, they were housed only in the original courthouse. Common pleas courtrooms are now in the Hall of Justice.

Keller told the Lancaster Eagle Gazette that the county closed the front steps to the courthouse a while ago as some people had trouble getting up them. The entrance below the steps currently serves at the main entrance.

 County Commissioner Dave Levacy said this renovation is a necessity and would like to see it completed before his current term expires next year.

“Obviously, this is a sandstone building,” he said. “Being a sandstone building, you have to look at the long-term possibilities of preserving this building. And, it takes extra care. My goal is while I’m commissioner is to actually do some extensive renovation. Not just on the building, but on the walls up front, the entrance steps, the whole look of the building. This is a very historic building for Fairfield County and the city of Lancaster.”

Keller said the soffit repair will cost approximately $10,000 and shows how old buildings have problems that must be addressed.

“Everything from the metal roof that needs to be replaced down to the sandstone blocks that need to be rejuvenated and strengthened. And, the mortar needs to be replaced. There’s just a lot of things to do.”

Part of the issue stems from sandstone being a soft material, which leads to erosion.

“Erosion occurs all the time on sandstone,” Keller added. “We see it every year here with little piles of sand around the building where the sand is just wearing off just like it does on the side of Mount Pleasant or whatever. It just needs continual maintenance.”

Levacy said he would like to preserve the building for the next century.

“But our goal is to do what needs to be done right now; to take care of anything that’s potentially, first of all hazardous, and second of all, to maintain the integrity of the building, with the roof especially. My long-term goal is to do extensive restoration.”

He added that the issue is whether the county can afford the work and when it could start.

“We’ve had a lot of large projects that we’ve completed. But this is the next project on my radar and, hopefully, we’ll be able to accomplish that. It’s one thing to have a vision of how things are done. But you have to be able to pay for it.”