Repairs begin on Wicomico Courthouse

Last year, contractors fixed the casements that secure the clocks in the Courthouse tower.

The rather neglected centerpiece to Downtown Salisbury is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Work commenced this week on the $782,000 exterior renovation to the Wicomico Courthouse. Workers began erecting scaffolding on Monday, so they can readily access the building’s roof, downspouts and ultimately, its historic clock tower.

Tight county budgets of the last decade caused work to be delayed on the historic structure. Plans were already in motion to finance repairs over two budget years when lightning struck the clock tower atop the structure last summer.

The bolt blasted away pieces of the slate roof and appeared to destabilize the tower, causing it to tilt slightly. County officials immediately placed the courthouse repairs on the top of their to-do list.

County Deputy Administrator Weston Young, who worked as the county’s Public Works Director when the renovation plans were being drafted, said there are two phases to the project: roof repair and tower repair.

“The old slate roof has been leaking in parts,” Weston said. “We want to try to replace the roof and, of course, meet the historical requirements, and make sure it’s done well.”

CEEPCO Contracting from Silver Spring, Md., was the project’s low bidder and now has a crew on the scene. The county had originally planned to spend $750,000 over fiscal years 2016-18 for repairs that include replacing the roof and gutters, reinforcing the upper floor structure and bell tower, repairing masonry and painting.

“With the bell tower specifically, we did have structural engineers take a look at it. The plan was to repair it. It has some age. The paint is old,” Young said.

County officials have discussed the best method for working on the tower: either with it in place, or after removing it and putting it on the ground, for easier access.

“It has a slight lean,” Weston told the Salisbury Independent last summer after the lightning strike. “I was up there in the tower … and you can feel it swaying in the wind.”

Most of the courthouse grounds have been cordoned off to protect pedestrians from any falling objects or debris during the reconstruction. Crews will use a crane periodically at the site, depending on that day’s task.

Built in 1878, the Courthouse is recognized as one of the region’s most important historical structures. Wicomico County was founded just 11 years before the building’s construction. In 1886, it somehow survived a devastating fire that burned down nearly all of the building around it.

County Executive Bob Culver, who admits a deep fascination and respect for the building, said he wants the project completed in time for the county’s 150th birthday this fall.

“There are few buildings Downtown that represent Salisbury and Wicomico County more than the historic Wicomico County Courthouse,” Culver said. “It stands as a symbol of our past, and a beacon for the future.”

Young said the contractor has 120 days to complete the work, which would add up to late July. Plans are also under way, thanks to private entities, to have the building and tower uplighted after the work is complete.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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