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Wednesday, 03 June 2009 18:38

Restoration blends function with history

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After more than two years, the Haywood County historic courthouse has finally been returned to its original grandeur.

The painstaking process of restoring the stately 1931 building, long an icon of the Haywood County community, has had its share of bumps and challenges along the way. The project fell severely behind schedule during the first year, prompting the county to fire the contractor, which resulted in a costly lawsuit. Others — like the ghosts workers allegedly saw — were easier to overcome, or at least learn to live with.

The building, which will host county offices, was slated to open in June, but likely won’t be ready until later this summer.

In the end, lead architect Chad Roberson with Asheville-based PBC&L is happy with how the project turned out.

“It’s a substantial civic building, and it was an anchor of the community, so it was built to be around for years,” Roberson said. “Now, we’ve given it another lifespan.”

The courthouse was literally built to last. To get the project started, significant demolition had to take place in order to begin updates.

“The existing courthouse is built very well, and so we had to do a lot of demolition in there to make it usable for modern needs,” Roberson said. “The demolition was very substantial.”

To figure out how the courthouse originally looked, Roberson and his crew pored over old photos of the building. Those proved key in helping to restore the building’s grandest space — the old courtroom. Photos came in handy when reconstituting the courtroom’s mezzanine balcony, which had been walled in and turned into offices over the years. Missing sections of ornate trim that once lined the walls of the balcony were handcarved to once again return the beautiful detail to its original glory.

“There was 1970s paneling on the inside, and when we pulled it off, they found the trim and the ornamentation,” Roberson said.

Painstaking measures were taken to restore the courtroom, including hand carving to fill in gaps where the ornamentation had been damaged or was missing and adding antique wooden benches to reflect how the courtroom looked in 1931.

“The courtroom was the most challenging by far,” Roberson said. “It’s a very monumental space and needed to be restored carefully to what it was originally. It was definitely the toughest room.”

Other measures were taken to make sure as many original materials as possible were used. For instance, in the first floor historic corridor, unique tiles line the walls. However, some of the tiles were missing — forcing contractors to go searching for matching replacement tiles elsewhere in the building. They found some on the third floor under a layer of 1970s era paneling.

Additionally, all the doors and windows of the buildings are original. Some of the doors still bear the sign for their old use, such as lawyer’s and sheriff’s offices. The doors were refurbished, and in some instances relocated from one floor to another.

Roberson said one of the most challenging parts of the project was adding the stair tower and elevator tower addition at the back of the original building.

“Joining those two different architectural styles was one of the biggest challenges we had,” Roberson said. “One part was built in the early part of the 20th century, and we had to add a modern addition to it in the 21st century.”

In the end, the rewards were worth the obstacles.

“The building is an amazing building, and there have definitely been challenges in getting it completed,” Roberson said. “But I think in the end, it was definitely something we are very proud of and the county is very proud of.”

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