While county commissioners and the architectural firm that has been involved in restoration of the Mahoning County Courthouse are locked in a legal battle, urgently needed repairs remain in limbo.
Indeed, three years have passed since loose, overhanging 800-pound granite cornerstones were removed from the rooftop level of the colonnade. Then, the 15-foot by 40-foot statue that sat atop the courthouse was removed. The structure was made up of three figures and weighed two tons. The only support it had was a pedestal weakened by corroding steel-support beams.
The 4M Co. of Boardman, which had been involved in the restoration of the interior of the courthouse more than 20 years ago, was hired to assess the situation and recommend a solution.
Restoration architect Robert Mastriana of 4M and AmeriSeal Restoration submitted a report on the exterior-facade analysis. It identified four phases of exterior work with a price tag of $10 million.
A temporary roof was installed where the statues were removed, but a permanent fix appears to have been held hostage by government wrangling.
Five months ago, the commissioners announced they were seeking bids for another firm to do the work because the $9 million sought by 4M was too high. However, Mastriana contended he had agreed to lower the cost to $6 million during an arbitration session over the contract dispute with the county.
But Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti says the county no longer has a contract with the architectural restoration firm and that the company has been paid fully for the work that was done. She said the county is moving ahead with finding a new company to complete the facade restoration work and also the roof.
NO WORK WILL BEGIN SOON
While the commissioners insist that they don’t want any more delays in correcting safety hazards and restoring the 102-year-old building, their decision to look for a new architectural firm does mean that actual work won’t begin any time soon.
Rimedio-Righetti says it is her belief that the safety issues were addressed first, so as to alleviate the danger of anyone being injured by falling material.
However, the deterioration worsens with each passing day.
Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney, who has had to deal with water leaking through the ceiling of her fourth-floor chambers, says that safety must be given top priority.
James Fortunato, the county’s purchasing director, insists that with the removal of the loose granite, the statues and the installation of the temporary roof, the courthouse has been stabilized.
Fortunato said that with the hiring of a new architect and engineer, work will proceed. However, Ohio’s competitive bidding laws must be followed, which means it will take time before actual work begins.
The commissioners must know that the county is flirting with legal trouble so long as the courthouse remains in a state of disrepair.
Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti, who was in office when the problems first arose three years ago, insist they are committed to getting the project completed. They’re saying all the right things, but given the amount of time that has passed, it seems that talk is cheap — figuratively speaking.