More than three years ago, the Mahoning County Courthouse lost its trademark Justice, Law, and Strength and Authority. In October 2010, crews removed those three grandiose statues that reigned supreme atop the award-winning century-old architectural gem of Mahoning County government.
Fears over the potential collapse of the cracking support structure upon which the 15-foot-tall and 40-foot-wide statues rested forced their removal and the construction of a temporary roof.
Four winters later, the temporary roof remains in place, and precious little has been accomplished toward a $6 million renovation of the courthouse to protect public safety and to restore the historic building’s aesthetic allure.
At long last, Mahoning County commissioners late last month awarded a contract to a local architectural and engineering firm to oversee restoration and preservation of the courthouse. The commissioners hired ms consultants inc. of Youngstown for $510,000.
OUT OF LIMBO AT LAST
That contract represents an end to years of legal wrangling with another Mahoning Valley architectural firm. It also should at long last take the renovation project out of limbo. It’s time now to spare no efforts toward completing the project to be funded with $8 million the county has set aside for building improvements.
It’s also time for action to match the urgency county leaders long have expressed about the absolute necessity of the project.
As Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said last year, “We should not procrastinate any longer. We do need to get this done. We must remediate it. It needs to be fixed for public safety.”
Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti sounded a similar alarm: “We need to keep it safe. We need to upgrade it. We need to make it the best building we have.”
With those thoughts in mind, we look for ms consultants to work efficiently and expeditiously toward building a realistic timetable for the project and its multiple phases. While no one wants expediency to trump high-standard work, the county needs a reliable barometer against which to assess the project’s progress.
We also hope the project moves along every step of the way with strong attention paid to the health and safety for the hundreds of workers and visitors who use the courthouse daily. Structural engineers have cited dangers posed by neglect, including rusted carbon steel anchorages that once secured the rooftop cornice and balustrade.
Or consider the plight of County Common Please Court Judge Maureen Sweeney. Water has leaked through the ceiling and into her fourth-floor chambers and onto her desk and carpet from the attic, with buckets being placed in the attic to stop the leak, she has reported. That’s hardly a snapshot of judicial decorum.
URGENCY OF RESTORATION
The urgency of the restoration cannot be understated because conditions stand to worsen with each passing day.
We also hope that the project proceeds without problems of oversight that characterized the last massive renovation of the courthouse more than 20 years ago. Then The Vindicator uncovered instances of questionable practices in purchasing and bidding – including nearly $2 million in work that went unbid. Officials vow to follow the letter of the law in bidding procedures even if that may temporarily slow progress.
In the end – and we hope the end is in sight in the not-too-distant future — failsafe security and revered dignity will return to the 103-year-old structure on the National Register of Historic Places. Commissioners, county leaders and project contractors should build on the newfound momentum to restore maximum integrity — as well as Justice, Law, and Strength and Authority — to the county courthouse as efficiently and as expeditiously as possible.