New jail county, courthouse expansion on target for September completion

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If you’re a contractor working outdoors, one of your sworn enemies is bad weather. if it comes too soon and stays too long, an entire project can be reduced to shambles.

In the midst of two of the largest county-funded building projects: the new county jail and the expansion to the Switzerland County courthouse — recent winter weather has caused some adjustments to the construction schedule, but due to diligent work on the part of the construction company, everything is still on target.

“The weather’s had us screwed up a little bit,” Tom Westerman, project superintendent over both projects for Weigand Construction, said. “It’s not been too bad, though. Hopefully winter will be over pretty quickly. It’s supposed to be nice next week.”

Trying to coordinate two projects going on simultaneously can be rather stressful, but county commissioner Brian Morton said that it’s Tom Westerman’s ability to administrate the jobs that has kept both on schedule for a September completion.

“This county is very fortunate to have a site superintendent in Tom Westerman who works as hard as he does,” Brian Morton said. “We also have a local representative in Bruce Williams who has been working with Tom throughout the projects and represents the county’s interests. There’s no doubt in my mind that if we didn’t have Tom on this construction site, we would be where we’re at today — and that’s on schedule.”

Tom Westerman said that on the jail project workers are expected to be putting on the black roofing paper and beginning to shingle the building this Monday. It is hoped that — weather permitting — that the shingles will be on the jail by the end of next week.

Tom Westerman said that the cement block work, both inside and outside, is now completed with the jail; and the workers are now beginning to install the sprinkler system inside. With the jail under roof, even if more bad weather hits, workmen can still continue to make progress on the interior of the building.

One of the next projects that county residents will see is the laying of stone and brick on the veneer of the exterior of the building. Tom Westerman believes that work will start in the near future, and residents should then begin to get an idea of just what the finished jail is going to look like.

“We’re going to get to a point in the near future where most of the work will be going on inside the jail,” Tom Westerman said. “That should keep everyone going through the winter.”

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South of Pike Street, workers area also busy working on the expansion of the Switzerland County Courthouse.

Tom Westerman said that workers are busy laying the masonry block for the exterior of the expansion, and with more calm winter weather, workers are really making progress in raising the exterior walls. He estimates that there are four to five more weeks left on the masonry.

“We will have to run the walls all the way up,” Tom Westerman said. “Once that’s done, contractors will then put the second floor in, and then we’ll put the roof on.”

Right now the courthouse is behind the jail, mostly because workers started on the jail earlier, but Tom Westerman says that workers will reach a point where the courthouse catches up with the jail due to the technical work and construction that has to be done for the safety issues inside the jail.

He expects both to be completed in September.

County Commissioner Brian Morton said that things are also going very well from the county’s perspective, and that the commissioners are impressed with the progress made lately in getting the exterior block laid for the expansion’s walls.

“I think we’re pretty much on schedule with everything,” Brian Morton said. “With the weather the way it’s been, we really think they’re making great progress with the block. We’re pretty happy with everything.”

When completed, the courthouse expansion will have three levels: a basement and two floors for office space. Technically it won’t be a part of the current courthouse, but will a free-standing structure that will be attached to the original courthouse by a connector that will be made of glass block. An elevator will be located in the new expansion, but handicapped visitors to the original courthouse will also have access because there will be walkway access from one building to the other.

“The reason we decided to use the connector instead of building directly on the courthouse was because we couldn’t directly match up the brick and the architecture of the building, so we didn’t feel that it would look as nice,” Brian Morton said. “That’s why we decided to use a sort of ‘buffer zone’ between the old building and the new building with the connector.”

Brian Morton said that every effort was made to match the exterior brick of the expansion to the historic brick of the original courthouse, and noted that the same brick will also be used on the new jail — making all of the county buildings match.

Parking behind the courthouse has obviously been reduced with the construction, but Brian Morton said that there will still be some parking behind the new facility. Additional parking will be installed on Main Cross Street west of the courthouse, and there will be an entrance through the existing wrought iron fence with a sidewalk accessing the expansion.

No official decisions have been made as to which offices are going to relocate from the original courthouse into the expansion; but Brian Morton did say that the prosecutor’s office, now located on the third floor, will be moving down so that it will also be handicapped accessible. The current prosecutor’s office will be used for storage once the new building is completed.

“We don’t know who’s going to move and who’s going to stay, but those who stay in the original courthouse will have twice as much room because of the offices that will be vacated by the ones moving into the addition,” Brian Morton said. “After everything is completed, we feel like we are going to have the space that’s needed to serve the people of this county.”

During the construction phase of both projects, Pike Street between Liberty and Main Cross streets has been closed to through traffic. Once everything is completed, the street will reopen.

“The commissioners, the contractors, everybody associated with this project understand that during this construction it’s been difficult on traffic and other things, but we appreciate people’s cooperation with everything. We really appreciate everyone’s patience,” Brian Morton said.