Courthouse repairs, upgrades begin

Bryant Brown with GMK architectural firm in Columbia shows off new look of rear of courthouse. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – Renovations to the Fairfield County Courthouse that are funded with bond money remaining from the 2013, $24 million Fairfield Facilities Corporation bond, may soon be underway.

Bryant Brown, an architect with GMK Associates in Columbia, presented information to council Monday night about how those renovations and repairs are going to proceed.

“You have a very unique building,” Bryant said. He said GMK works with Robert Mills courthouses that need renovation all across the state.

“One of the things you asked us to do is an evaluation of the building, to look at the mechanicals, at what needs to be done for safety, ADA compliance, the walls and all the things in the building that need to be repaired. The vast majority of the problems are mechanical,” he said. “They [mechanicals] are old and need to be upgraded.”

Brown said the evaluation is in the final stages.

“We finished the study last year and we’re now in the first phase of the renovation – to go in and start working on the restrooms. They all have to be updated. The second phase will build a new addition to the back of the building,” he said. “One of the keys to this is to keep the work inside going as we move through the phases. We’re going to be working with the parking area and the infrastructure underneath it.”

Bryant also addressed the moisture problems, saying the mold is nothing that can’t be corrected.

“We’ve got to control the humidity in there. The new air conditioning system will address this situation and make a huge difference,” he said.

“We’re pulling everything together now, getting pricing for our budget,” he said.

Displaying both an aerial view of the Courthouse grounds as well as an artist’s rendition of the new look of the back of the building, Bryant explained that entrance to the building would be from the dressed up back of the building.

“The reason for this entrance upgrade is for safety and protection. It will separate the employee population from visitors to the Courthouse,” he said. He also explained that while the curved iron steps on the front of the building are not ADA compliant, the back will accommodate access to the second and third floors of the building.

When there was some discussion in 2016 about building a new Courthouse, members of the bar in Fairfield County weighed in on the uniqueness, grandeur and practicality of the current building, calling for it to be saved at all costs.

“Ours is, by far, the best Courthouse in the state of South Carolina when you consider the practical nature of the courtroom, the comfort it affords the litigants, the great acoustics and the historical significance of the Courthouse, itself, which was designed by Robert Mills,” Winnsboro attorney Creighton Coleman said in an interview with The Voice. “Some things could be improved a little, but it should not be scuttled. It’s a wonderful courtroom and Courthouse,” Coleman said, “and we should keep it as our Courthouse.”

Bryant said the cost of the renovations are estimated at $5.3 million but that number, he said, includes all the bells and whistles and that some things could be cut out to accommodate the $4.2 – $4.3 million that is left in the bond money.

He said the renovation will start in the next two to three weeks and will take a little over a year to complete.

“I’ve worked on other buildings like this, one in Camden, and this building is in comparatively pretty good shape,” Bryant said. “You’re very blessed for that. You’ve taken good care of it for all these years.”

Designed by Robert Mills, the Courthouse was built in 1823-1824.

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