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January 4, 2013

Marble staircase to come down in courthouse

(Continued)

Times changed

Not too long ago, residents could access the courthouse through five other doors, including the eastside ground floor door and four second-floor doors on each side of the building. However, these entrances have not been used since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.  After that, court users had to file through the main ground-floor entrance on Jefferson Street so they could walk through the metal detector.  Because of the change, most people who use the courthouse use the staircase that will remain under the renovation plan.

Moore realizes there is great nostalgia for the courthouse as it is, including both staircases. However, he believes the renovations will include improvements that are more historically accurate than what exists.

For example, the plan includes using the marble from the staircase around the new elevator, which would be recessed so the exiting columns will remain visible.

“It will look like the elevator has always been there,” Moore said. In contrast, the existing elevator does not.

Plans also call for removing the laminate-faced bench in the third-floor courtroom with one more historically accurate and in harmony with the original wood trim and moldings.

On the fourth floor, renovations will include creating a grand jury room, a space for court reporters, an employee break room and exhibit storage. It also means removing the plywood-covered hole in the fourth floor that obstructs the view of the courthouse dome.

“This is not an easy decision for me,” he said. “We are trying to be good stewards of the building. We are trying to keep this building viable and active. This building, once renovated, has 40 years of life if it is properly maintained.  I firmly intend to maintain historical accuracy but we also have to be practical.  With the list of requirements we were given — not changing the exterior, not adding on, meeting the judges’ and occupants’ need for space — that is how we came up with this plan.”

Menefee said he has spoken with the judges and that Circuit Judge James Woodroof Jr., Limestone’s presiding judge, and he agreed the county should move forward with renovations.  However, he said District Judge Jeanne Anderson is opposed to removing the staircase.

Neither Woodroof nor Anderson could be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Chris Paysinger, president of the Limestone County Historical Commission, could not be reached for comment on the issue Thursday afternoon.

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