ATHENS — A Montgomery architectural firm presented a renovation plan Wednesday to the Limestone County Commission that would save the courthouse’s historic and controversial marble staircase and possibly reduce project costs.
Mike Watson of 2WR Inc. developed the plan after county historic commission and historical society members objected to the removal of the staircase as part of the renovation of the courthouse built in 1916.
The last step for the historic groups is for project manager Brian Moore to examine the proposal.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up,” Moore said. “It’s a very creative plan. If it works, that’s great. If not, we’re back to removal of the staircase.”
Watson proposed installing the new elevator at the west entrance instead of the east, where the staircase sits. It would allow continued use of the current elevator during construction.
After completing the new elevator, the old elevator would be removed and the space turned into a holding room for pretrial detainees.
The east entrance would become a temporary main entrance during construction. The new elevator would narrow the entrance space through security after completion.
Watson said a new elevator would run only to the third floor. A lift to the fourth floor would be needed so the floor is handicap accessible.
The commission plans to add a grand jury room and offices on the fourth floor as part of a $2.5 million to $3 million renovation. The renovation will create four courtrooms.
Watson said he did not have a cost estimate for his new plan but thinks it could save money because the staircase would not have to be removed.
Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee cautioned the historic groups to temper their excitement until “we can see if it works,” but said he likes the new plan.
“Despite what some people think, I don’t want to remove the staircase,” Menefee said.
The County Commission agreed after the historical groups protested to let Watson meet with Alabama Architectural Historian Robert Gamble to look for an alternative.
Watson met last week with Gamble and Alabama Historical Commission architect Elizabeth Brown.
“We felt all along there had to be an alternative,” said Linda Nelson, president of the Limestone Historic Society. “We just wanted them to get another opinion. If Bob Gamble said there was no way we could save the stairs, then we would understand. Now we see there is an alternative, so we’re very happy.”
The county commissioners said after the meeting they also like the proposal.
“It looks awesome to me,” Commissioner Steve Turner said. “I just hope everything fits. If it does, we’ll make a lot of people happy.”
Menefee said he hopes the plan works so the renovation project can begin in about two months. He said the delay because of the controversy may increase the project’s cost.
Bayne Hughes can be reached at 256-340-2432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.