The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 15, 2013

Historical Society to oppose courthouse stair removal


jean@athensnews-courier.com

ATHENS — Members of the Limestone County Historical Society plan to attend Wednesday’s Limestone County Commission work session to oppose a plan to remove one of the marble staircases in the Courthouse.

Historical Society President Linda Nelson told The News Courier that after meeting last week on the matter and after looking at the courthouse renovation plan, Historical Society members opposed the removal of the stairs.

They plan to attend the County Commission work session at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Washington Street annex meeting room in Athens.

The president of the Limestone County Historical Commission has already said the stairs hold too much of the county’s history to be removed.

Limestone County Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee and Brian Moore, the head of the company overseeing renovations to the courthouse, say the staircase on the east side of the courthouse interior must be removed in order to place a new elevator in the building.

Renovation goal

The primary goal of the renovation is to create more usable space in the building as well as to repair leaks and make other repairs. Moore said renovation should give the building 40 more years of life.

Renovators initially planned to build a new elevator next to the current elevator so the old one could operate until the new one was finished. However, Moore, president of Martin & Cobey Construction of Athens, said the architects’ plan used the original courthouse drawings on which to base its renovation plan, and that plan incorrectly reflected the actual location of a wall where the current elevator stands. That means there was less area in which to work than expected. Thus, the old elevator would have to be dismantled before a new one could be installed in the same location.

This would prevent people with disabilities from using the courthouse for three or four months or it would force the county to move court services elsewhere temporarily, which Menefee said would be disruptive and expensive. Lack of an elevator would also mean prisoners would have to be walked up to the second and third-floor courtrooms, which might require additional security.

The only alternative, Moore said, is to begin building the new elevator elsewhere in the building while the old elevator is still operating. He believes the far staircase is not only the only place the new elevator can go without impinging on office space, it is also the most practical because there is already a hole through three floors for the staircase.

Moore, an Athens native who considers himself a student of both history and architecture, said he understands the historic value and meaning of the courthouse. He believes removing one of the stairways — the one least used by the public — is the only way to keep the courthouse operating while renovations commence. He believes it is also the only way to refrain from encroaching on space sorely needed for judges and other courthouse employees.