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Library countdown: Volunteers help ready books for the move

Good things come to those who wait.

It’s an adage Jackson County library users will need to bear in mind this spring during a month-long closure of the Sylva branch during the massive move into its brand-new, first-class digs.

Librarians face the daunting task of packing up 35,000 books in circulation at the current library and arranging them in their new home. It can’t be done while continuing to keep the doors of the library open, according to Betty Screven, public relations chair with Friends of the Jackson County Library.


Volunteers with Friends of the Library are lining up to help with the operation. In fact, they’ve already started.

They have been combing the stacks of the Sylva library outfitting each book with a special radio-frequency identification tag. The new tags will take the place of the traditional barcodes used to check out books today.

Radio-frequency tags allow entire piles of books to be scanned at once, not only making it easier to check books in and out but also to keep track of collections. Librarians can inventory of a whole shelf in seconds without ever taking a book off. Library users will even be able to check out their own books.

The technology is considered cutting edge, but making the transition to the radio-frequency tags is too expensive and time consuming for most libraries to tackle.

The new library, which was constructed as an enormous wing on the back of the historic courthouse, will be more than three times bigger than the current one. The county is spending $8 million to build the library and restore the historic courthouse.

Jackson County Friends of the Library raised $1.8 million to furnish the library — from shelving to armchairs to desks — with $400,000 of that devoted to buying new books and materials. Newly purchased library items will come already equipped with the radio-frequency identification tags.

The new library will have a soft opening sometime in May with a grand opening planned for Saturday, June 11.

Jackson County library taking shape

The completion date for Jackson County’s new library is just three months away, but the likelihood the project really will be finished then isn’t that great, construction Manager David Cates of Canton-based Brantley Construction acknowledged late last week.

Additional construction work, coupled with possible weather delays as this its-not-supposed-to-be-a-bad winter starts out with a battering of severe cold and snow, probably forebodes additional delay. A December target date was missed, too, because of poor weather conditions — 62 days of measurable rainfall in the first 90 building days — and complications with restoring the courthouse’s crowning point, the cupola.

The new library is being built as a 22,000-square-foot addition to the historic courthouse, which towers above Sylva on a small mountaintop. The courthouse itself will be devoted to providing community space to Jackson County residents, including an approximately 2,500-square-foot courtroom that will be available for almost any type of function or meeting. Office space for the county’s arts council and genealogical society will be provided in the old courthouse building.

The cupola is back atop the courthouse now, and a re-polished Lady Justice is shining brightly nearby. Inside, the library itself is taking shape. Friends of the Jackson County Main Library led a tour last week to showoff progress and detail the work taking place.

The future Jackson County Public Library is, in a word, gorgeous. Apart from a few libraries located at major universities (the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill comes to mind), it is doubtful any other community in the Southeast will boast of a facility as impressive as this one.

“I’m a little worried it is going to be so precious people will be uncomfortable,” said June Smith, president of the Jackson County Friends of the Main Library. “But I think and hope people will grow into it.”

Jackson County’s future library hasn’t been without controversy. Getting to this point took a decade of debate and a year of planning. There were arguments about the location, the cost and the need.

Budget disagreements concerning future library funding are likely to heat up again in the near future. Particularly since voters gave three of the project’s primary supporters — Democrats Brian McMahan, Tom Massie and William Shelton — the boot during last month’s election. Their replacements — officially-Independent-but-GOP-supported Chairman Jack Debnam and Republicans Charles Elders and Doug Cody — cited costs associated with the library project as prime examples of fiscal waste during their political campaigns.


A passion for libraries

“There are people in this community who are very passionate about libraries, and one of the most important roles the Friends’ plays is that of library advocate,” said Mary Otto Selzer, co-chair of the Friends of the Library committee, which raised more than $1.8 million since May 2008 in donations and grants to furnish and outfit the new facility.

To that end, Selzer and other Friends of the Library members join Jackson County Librarian Dottie Brunette in monitoring — and being visible at — the bi-monthly meetings of the county’s commissioners.

Setzer, who worked as an investment banker, said she hopes to help be able to educate the county’s new commissioners on the important role played by the library.

The three newcomers on the board join Democrats Mark Jones and Joe Cowan. They each have two years remaining on their four-year terms.

“They all are business people,” Setzer said optimistically, “and they like numbers and figures. That’s my background, too.”

In the three-county Fontana Regional Library System, made up of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, Jackson County historically almost always ranks last in terms of per-capita funding. This even though the previous Democratic-controlled board of commissioners was considered supportive of its libraries, with one each in Sylva and Cashiers.

Swain County — thanks to a low-taxing ability because of the sheer amount of federal holdings within the county’s boundaries, a number approaching about 85 percent — has recently overtaken Jackson as the lowest-ranking funded county in the Fontana System, Setzer said. Swain County is just now beginning to consider whether to build a new library of its own.

Setzer said she believes the massive community response to fundraising for Jackson County’s new library speaks volumes about residents’ commitment for libraries in general. She said the Friends group would need to continue money-raising ventures even once it opens.

That ongoing commitment to fundraising does not, however, abrogate the county’s responsibility to pay for general operating needs, Setzer said, such as overall building maintenance and staffing.


45,000 items to move

Betty Screven, a volunteer with Friends of the Library, said great pains have been taken to retain the original feel of the historic courthouse, which dates to 1914.

Architects and interior designers used historic records to guide restoration efforts. The building, gutted during the 1970s, had almost no original features. So the team instead focused on the Madison County Courthouse, which Jackson County’s courthouse was modeled on when the county seat was moved from Webster to Sylva.

The old courthouse and the addition are connected by a glass atrium. This will serve as the main entrance into the complex.

Librarian Brunette said there would be about 45,000 items that must be moved from the current Sylva library — located near the base of the hill the new library and old county courthouse sit astride. How exactly to move the books, CDs and other library material haven’t been decided yet. Other county employees, with permission of commissioners, helped when the contents of Macon County’s library was moved a few years ago.

New items are being purchased for Jackson County’s new library, as well. But “we don’t want all the shelves full, you want to be able to grow,” Brunette said.

There are gaps in the library collection the librarian would like to see filled. The Cherokee collection is not what it should be, though Ben Bridgers, a Sylva lawyer, plans to donate many historical and scholarly Cherokee books to the library, she said. Brunette also wants more materials for young adults.

A snake in the courthouse? Believe it

Deputy Gregory Wood was looking forward to a mundane Monday morning manning the metal detector at the Haywood County courthouse when a woman came in with some strange news: a snake had taken up residence in the elevator of the parking deck.

Needless to say, when the woman saw the big, black snake curled up in the corner, she opted to take the stairs. Wood said he didn’t doubt her tale for a second.

“We get strange things around here all the time,” he said.

So Wood, along with fellow Deputy Russell Bryson, headed out to see for themselves. They hit the call button for the elevator, and when the doors opened, there it was — a big, black snake nearly four feet long.

They realized right away the snake didn’t get in there on its own.

“It couldn’t have crawled in there before the doors closed shut on it,” Bryson said.

But first things first.

“I knew I needed to get it off the elevator,” Wood said. He pulled his expandable baton from his holster and quickly pinned down the snake’s head to immobilize it. With his other hand, Wood grabbed the snake by the neck so it couldn’t turn around and bite him.

Wood paused briefly to pose while Bryson took a picture on his cell phone, and then the two released the poor critter into the grass.

Once back inside, they began reviewing surveillance footage of the parking deck. At 10:20 a.m. — about 10 minutes before the woman reported it — a man is seen walking up to the elevator and putting the snake inside. It’s possible someone rode on the elevator with the snake if they were talking on their phone or otherwise distracted, Wood said.

“We are trying to figure out if there is anything we can charge him with,” Wood said of the man. They consulted with a District Court judge to figure out what charge might be applicable. The next step would be identifying him.

Before putting the snake on the elevator, the man was walking around with it on the grounds outside the historic courthouse. Tax Collector David Francis, who works in the building, confronted the man and asked him to get rid of the snake.

Resolution long way off in Haywood’s historic courthouse quagmire

Haywood County is headed to arbitration in a lawsuit over the $8.2 million renovation to the historic courthouse.

The contractor sued the county for $2 million after being fired from the job in May 2008. The county claimed the contractor was “significantly behind schedule” and was “incapable” of finishing the job they were hired to do.

Meanwhile, KMD Construction claims it was working off inaccurate blueprints. As a result, the project took a lot longer than expected, and was more expensive.

The county refused to pay for cost overruns, however. KMD says it was left holding the bag and wants the county to pay up. The suit cites wrongful termination by the county and negligence by the county’s architect.

Last week, the county learned arbitration to settle the ongoing dispute has been scheduled for May 2011.

The county and contractor butted heads for most of the project, but the final straw came when the county learned the contractor was cutting corners that compromised the structural integrity of the building, according to court filings. Specifically, a cinder-block wall of an interior staircase at the rear of the courthouse was being put up without proper internal support.

“KMD management was aware of the unsafe, improper and defective construction and intended to cover it up,” the county claims in court filings, defending its firing of KMD.

Another construction error involved leaky conduit for electrical lines feeding an emergency generator. The conduit was not properly sealed, and leaks damaged the switch for the emergency power supply, according to the county.

In yet another mishap, kerosene heaters were left burning unattended to make drywall mud dry faster. One malfunctioned and smoke and soot got into the ventilation system and filled the building.

KMD, however, says the architectural plans were inadequate and failed to meet building code, leaving out key support beams in several places.

The construction plans also failed to reflect the condition of the historic building, such as the varying thickness of the stone exterior walls and undulating slopes in the floor, which required extensive leveling, KMD claims in its suit.

The county admits that the blueprints weren’t perfect, but that goes with the territory when making renovations to a historic 1930s-era building.

“Haywood County admits that the project designs required revisions through the course of construction to meet unknown conditions in the existing building,” wrote Bob Meynardie, an attorney representing the county, in court filings.

The county countersued the contractor, claiming it racked up additional expenses of its own during the drawn-out project. It had to pay rent on satellite office space during the renovations, pay architects for additional time and hire a scheduling consultant to keep the project on task.

The county withheld payments from the contractor to cover most of the extra costs it incurred as a result of the quagmire, while other costs were picked up by a surety bond taken out by the county as insurance against just such a scenario. As a result, the county didn’t pay any more for the project than it had budgeted originally. It was completed a year late, however.


What now?

Arbitration will bring a final resolution to the dispute and is similar to a court trial.

“The contractor will present their case, we will present our case and the arbitrators will decide whether or not to make an award to either side,” said Meynardie.

Both sides will present evidence, call witnesses and put on exhibits.

The only difference is that arbitration isn’t held before a judge. Instead, the decision rests with a three-person panel selected jointly by both sides: one chosen by the county, one by the contractor, and the third chosen jointly by the first two. The American Arbitration Association certifies architects, engineers, contractors and lawyers to serve as arbitrators. In this case, the panel will be comprised of three construction lawyers.

The architect and engineer for the project are named by KMD in the suit as well, but the county will hold the primary burden of countering KMD’s claims.

It does not appear that the county will try to point the finger at the architects and engineers in order to absolve itself.

“We believe the contractor had more responsibility for what wrong out there than anybody,” Meynardie said.

Issues with the contractor’s work were brought to the county’s attention by the architect. The architect also recommended firing KMD. But the county stands behind its decision.

“The contractor didn’t live up to its contractual obligation. We had to make our own assessment of that,” Meynardie said.

Even if the county prevails at arbitration, it will still be out the legal costs of defending itself, Meynardie said.

Can’t pop the top

As part of the major renovation of the historic Jackson County Courthouse, workers from Brantley Construction were set to remove the building’s signature dome last Friday. But three separate attempts to lift it off by crane failed.

The wood inside the dome has been compromised by rot, and Brantley’s carpenters are ready to restore it. But they need to be able to reach it first.

The removal process began at 10 a.m. on Friday morning, and the crews expected to have the dome off before lunch. But the project’s manager, David Cates, stressed all along that there was no exact schedule for getting the dome down.

Interested citizens, photographers and well-wishers gathered throughout the day to watch the momentous occasion, but in the end, the old dome proved stubborn.

The removal process entailed installing a steel frame around the dome to support its weight. The frame was hooked to a crane that could lift it free from the main structure of the Courthouse.

Before that could be done, work crews had to remove the bolts that held the dome to the courthouse roof then cut it all the way free with saws.

According to the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library, the project’s manager determined a heavier crane was needed for the job, and the attempts were abandoned around 5 p.m.

The removal will be re-attempted when the new crane is in place.

County ensnared in lawsuit over historic courthouse renovations

Haywood County is being sued for $2 million by the contractor in charge of renovations to the newly restored historic courthouse.

Haywood County commissioners fired the contractor 18 months into the job, citing serious delays and poor work. The construction company claims it wasn’t their fault, and instead blames the architect for inaccurate blueprints.

The county is meanwhile caught in the middle. If the contractor prevails in its demand for more money, the county would have to pay up then go after the architect to cover the pay-out.

County commissioners have had a rocky relationship with the company, KMD Construction, for much of the project. The county actually fired KMD from the project in May 2008 — 18 months into the job and a month away from the target completion date.

“At that time we had no idea when, how or if they were going to finish this job,” said Bob Menadue, a construction lawyer based in Raleigh who is representing the county in the dispute.

The county had also gotten a tip from a worker on the job that the contractor was cutting corners to save time and money.

“At that point it became a no brainer we had to terminate them,” Meynardie said.

The county had insured the project through a surety bond company, which took over when KMD was fired. The surety company rehired KMD to finish the work, but under a new project manager and with additional oversight by the surety company themselves. Meynardie said it is not unusual for the surety company to bring the same contractor back in.

“They should know the job better than anybody that could be brought in to finish it,” Meynardie said.


Tit for tat

The contractor, KMD Construction, is being represented by Steven Smith, an attorney with Smith, Parson and Vickstrom in Charlotte.

Smith said the architect provided poor blueprints that did not accurately reflect what the job would entail.

“He did not go out there and do an adequate investigation of the building,” Smith said.

Plans called for an addition on the back of the courthouse. The addition would be bolted into a large concrete beam supposedly inside the exterior wall of old courthouse.

“When they opened up the wall, guess what? No concrete beam in the wall. That one example crippled this project,” Smith said.

But the examples don’t stop there, Smith said. The architects also failed to realize that large granite blocks around the base of the courthouse were the structural support for the building — not a veneer — and could not easily be punched through.

Another example: the historic courthouse contained jail cells on the fourth and fifth floor. Plans called for ripping out the jail cells. What no one knew is that the bars for the jail cells ran through the ceiling that separated the fourth and fifth floors, so tearing out the cell bars required tearing out the concrete slab between floors, Smith said.

Smith said there were several show stopper issues that paralyzed the project. The contractor could not move forward without revised plans from the architect and new engineering. But the engineer and the architect were uncooperative, Smith said.

“We either got insufficient guidance or they said, ‘You deal with it,’” Smith said.

As the project got more and more behind schedule, the architects blamed the contractor.

“They were telling the county that we were holding things up, that we were responsible for the delays, when really we were without adequate design guidance and the project could not move forward,” Smith said.

Smith questioned whether the architects purposely drug their feet to hold up the project, since they are paid extra if the project goes over schedule.

The contractor is suing the county for $2 million. Of that, $800,000 is what the contractor claims it lost on the job, while $1.2 million is the profit and overhead KMS should have realized but didn’t.

KMD had to pay the fees for the surety company’s point man supervising the project’s completion, footed the bill for work that went beyond the scope of their original bid, and incurred extra expenses when hiring back subcontractors after the job was put on hold and then resumed.

The contractor also alleges they were wrongfully fired from the job.

Meynardie said the county tried to work with KMD to get the project back on track, but found them uncooperative. Meanwhile, KMD claims they were never given fair warning or a chance to address the county’s issue with their performance.

KMD named the architect and project engineer in the lawsuit as well, but the county is the main target since it holds the contract with KMD and the purse strings for the project.

“The architect and engineer are going to get to stand on the sidelines,” Meynardie said.

The architecture firm, Pearce, Brinkley, Cease and Lee, would not comment for this article.

Meynardie admits the blueprints were not 100 percent accurate.

“But that is not unusual in a renovation project,” Meynardie said. “The whole idea is the contractor and designer work together.”

Meynardie said the contractor plowed ahead on their own in some cases, ripping out structural elements of the building without the architect or engineer’s approval.

“There was a period of time when this building was in danger,” Meynardie said.

The county racked up additional expenses of its own during the drawn out project. It had to pay rent on satellite office space during the renovations, had to pay architects for their additional time and faces a big legal bill. The county withheld payments from the contractor to cover some of the extra costs it incurred as a result of the quagmire. Historic courthouse renovations have cost the county $8.2 million — only a slight cost overrun compared to the original budget of $8.038 million. It would have been more, however, if not for withholding a portion of the contractor’s payment.


The down and dirty

Tension between architects and contractors often goes with the territory. Contractors get frustrated by architects, whose plans on paper don’t always work on the ground. Architects get frustrated with contractors who can’t follow plans correctly and are constantly angling for change orders.

Change orders are the bane of any major construction project. When a contractor encounters added work not reflected in the plans, they ask for a change order outlining the extra work and adding to the project cost. The result is a constant tug of war between architect and contractor.

When competing for a building project, some contractors will underbid in order to score the job, since jobs go to the lowest bidder. The contractor is banking on pushing up the price tag through change orders over the course of construction, however.

Contractors nitpick the architect’s blueprints, claiming the plans were incomplete and that they are performing extra work outside the scope their original bid and thus need more money. The architect meanwhile insists that the plans are indeed accurate, and that the contractor is responsible for delivering the project for the price they promised.

In the end, contractors can come to blows with a hard-nose architect who holds the line on changes orders.

Jack Patterson, a professor in the construction management program at Western Carolina University and a former contractor by trade, said communication between the contractor and architect is vital, especially in renovations.

“One thing we stress with students to alleviate that problem is good communication skills,” Patterson said. “A lot of times the break down is in communication. Sometimes they get so frustrated that neither side is going to budge and there is no line of communication left to try to resolve that problem.”

Patterson also teaches students to do their own due diligence when bidding on a project to uncover hidden issues an architect may not have realized.

“As a contractor, I tried to find any defects in the blueprint or the building at the very beginning and address it before the bids are let,” Patterson said.

While any project — especially a massive renovation of a historic building — has its share of legitimate change orders, it can be difficult to discern which are legitimate and which are part of the game played by contractors to make more money.

“Animosity can be created through that cycle,” Patterson said. “It can get worse because each starts stonewalling the other and you end up in arbitration and along the way the building ends up not getting done. Somewhere down the line, people have to say this is what has happened and what do we need to do to get it done.”

Smith, of course, claims the change orders requested by the contractors were all legitimate. Meynardie said all legitimate change orders were approved.

But Smith said the contractors eventually quit pursuing change orders and just did the work at a loss, with the intention of settling up when the project was over.

“It got to the point with this job where it was clear where the architect had set up his tent,” Smith said.

Haywood celebrates completion of historic courthouse renovations

Haywood County leaders held a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday on the steps of the newly renovated historic courthouse.

The $8.2 million renovations to the 1932 courthouse have been a long time in the making. The project has been under discussion since the late 1990s, when the county began studying a plan to address cramped and inadequate court facilities. The result was a new justice center to house court functions, with the historic courthouse being remodeled to house county offices.

While the price tag of the projects has been the source of public controversy, county leaders say they made the right decision for the future.

“I hope they will look back and say our forefathers did us right,” said County Commissioner Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick.

Speakers at the ceremony lauded the restoration for accommodating the modern needs — such as elevators for the handicapped to high-tech computer wiring — while still preserving the historic aspects of the building.

“Haywood County citizens have long been committed to their roots while at the same time cognizant of their future,” said Marlene, an longtime Superior Court Judge who recently retired.

While a newly constructed justice center the new home for trials, records and court functions, it will never take the place in people’s hearts as the “courthouse,” said Glenn Brown, a former district attorney who spoke at the ribbon cutting.

Downtown merchants anticipate homecoming for county workforce

Downtown merchants in Waynesville hope to get a boost in customers when the Haywood County Historic Courthouse throws open its doors to the public Monday, June 29, following a two-year renovation.

Main Street shops lost frequent customers when courthouse construction forced county employees to relocate to temporary offices outside the downtown area. Come lunch time, they were far more likely to patronize the fast food joints along the commercial Russ Avenue corridor than supporting downtown merchants.

That will all change this week. Nearly 50 full-time employees will return to occupy office space in the newly renovated courthouse.

“I much prefer being downtown and able to walk on Main Street,” said Assistant Register of Deeds Becca Cedron, who said the Main Street location is the part of the move she’s most looking forward to. “It’s more convenient.”

Downtown merchants are equally enthused about the return of potential customers. The move could boost area business at a time when shops are feeling the effects of the economy.

“I’m very excited they’re coming back,” said Cary Turman, manager of Smoky Mountain Roasters. “I think it will greatly increase our lunch, and I maybe hope to see them grab coffee before they come to work in the morning.”

Chris Williams, manager of O’Malley’s, also hopes to intercept the increased traffic flow. Williams already sees a flood of lunch-time customers from the Justice Center, next door to the historic courthouse. He hopes county employees will stop by both for lunch and maybe for an after work beverage.

Meanwhile, the new town office building nearing completion on Main Street will bring even more workers to downtown Waynesville. Half a dozen town employees who have been squirreled away in off-site offices will be returning to work on Main Street by August.

The police department will also take up residence in the new building after a hiatus during construction. While the bulk of positions in the police department are patrol officers assigned to the road, at least half a dozen police personnel with administrative and management roles will add to the full-time downtown workforce.

“Economically, downtown will certainly benefit,” said Town Manager Lee Galloway. People working outside downtown are forced to climb in their cars for their lunch break, and once behind the wheel, “you think, ‘Well, I don’t want to drive downtown and find a parking place,’” Galloway said.

But when stationed downtown, the inverse is true “not just for the restaurants but it will be easy for them to walk to any of the other stores on Main Street,” Galloway said. Between the town and county workers, the foot traffic of 60 new people can’t be a bad thing.

In addition to the tangible bump in commerce, Galloway said keeping civic functions downtown are vital to maintaining a vibrant, working Main Street. That theory was one of the leading arguments in keeping county offices and the courthouse downtown in the first place. The county became embroiled in a bitter debate eight years ago when deciding whether to keep county offices downtown. Town leaders actively joined the voices of those lobbying to keep it on Main Street.

Historic courthouse welcomes back county offices

After two-and-a-half years of operating in temporary quarters, the big move is here.

Stacks of boxes are piled high in the hallways and offices of Haywood County workers, awaiting transfer to their new home. This weekend, they’ll be moved in a flurry of activity to the restored historic courthouse, which finally opens for business on Monday, June 29.

The renovation of the 1932 landmark into modern county offices has been much anticipated, once again consolidating many county services under one roof, bringing together departments like the Register of Deeds, Tax Office and county administration.

“I think it’s a very good example of restoring a historic landmark to modify and meet office space needs,” said County Manager David Cotton.

A ribbon-cutting for the historic courthouse will be held sometime in mid or late July to coordinate with the release of a book documenting Haywood County history, said Cotton.

County employees have, for the past few weeks, gone through the tedious process of packing up boxes of county-owned and personal items. Employees won’t actually be the ones moving the boxes — the county has hired movers to do that at a cost of $14,325 — but they’ll still have to oversee the transition.

Also making the move are hundreds of thick deed books — including the birth, marriage and death records of county residents dating back generations — make it safely to their new home in the historic courthouse. The books will be delicately vacuum-packed for preservation and moved on pallets.

The move back to the historic courthouse means the county can stop paying rent to the tune of $5,500 a month for temporary office space in the Waynesville Plaza. It will also free up significant office space in a county-owned building near K-Mart on Russ Avenue.

The county hasn’t completely rid itself of satellite office buildings, however, which still house myriad departments from planning to elections to social services. Some of those departments are eyeing the vacated space in the Russ Avenue building and making a pitch to move there.

“There will be county departments that will backfill the building,” Cotton said. “We’re still working on that, meeting with the directors that have expressed an interest in moving out there.”

There are myriad options for how county office space could be reshuffled. Cotton is compiling those to share with county commissioners at their July meeting.

The county has shelled out $363,000 for new furnishings for the historic courthouse. Each employee will receive a new office set, including a desk, credenza, storage and seating, at a cost of $2,400 per employee, Cotton said.

Employees will be able to take whatever furniture they want to keep from the Plaza location, and the rest will be auctioned off.

Restoration blends function with history

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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At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.