Monday, September 17, 2012
Lexington’s historic courthouse to remain closed because of health, safety concerns
Lexington’s historic courthouse on Main Street has been closed indefinitely to the public because of health concerns, according to General Services Commissioner Sally Hamilton.
“This is a beautiful building and a historic building. But over the years it has not been well-maintained building. Now it is an unsafe building,” Hamilton said, citing recent tests that have shown unsafe levels of damaged and deteriorating lead-based paint in the building.
Inside the dome of Lexington's historic courthouse (Photo courtesy of Peter Brackney)
In addition to lead concerns, the building has asbestos and structural problems. The city is also assessing mold levels. The decision to assess the building’s lead, asbestos and mold levels grew out of a complaint in April from a volunteer with the Lexington Public Safety Museum.
Until the closure, the building housed the Public Safety Museum, as well as the Lexington History Museum and the Kentucky Renaissance Pharmacy Museum. On Saturdays, patrons of the Farmers Market used restrooms inside the building.
In Aug. 29 letters to the museums, Hamilton notified the managers they will not be able to operate out of the building, giving them until last Monday (Sept. 10) to leave.
“Safety must come first and that means closing the facility,” Hamilton said. Lead is hazardous, especially for children who are 6 or younger. People can inhale or swallow lead dust or paint chips.
Hamilton’s letters to the museums state the city will “assist you to the extent possible in finding another location for its operation.”
The museums plan to continue operation in an alternate site, but no final decisions have been made.
Because of the need for extensive renovation, the costly clean-up will likely become part of a long-term plan for restoration of the building, which dates to 1898. For a century it was home to Fayette County court operations, which modified the building again and again to accommodate a growing community. The state built new courthouses in 2002.
Jeff Fugate, president and COO of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority and leader of the restoration efforts, said the long-term plan will involve both the public and private sector and definitely involve opportunities for public input.
“It’s a great building that is important to all of Lexington. It gives us an opportunity to build on our authentic history, but a project that is likely to be in the eight-figure range will require careful consideration and creativity in leveraging multiple sources of financing,” Fugate said. “The good news is that we are not the first community to tackle this type of preservation challenge so there are places to look for insight.”
Foster Ockerman Jr., president of the Courthouse Square Foundation, said, “We will need sophisticated solutions as well as community support to save our Old Courthouse.” The Foundation was established to support restoration of the historic building.
You might also be interested in Peter Brackney: Saving Lexington courthouse will preserve key part of community’s history.