Once again, it’s apparent that building the new Franklin County Judicial Center as an addition to the historic downtown courthouse is a more complicated undertaking than some may have anticipated. That doesn’t mean it was a bad idea but it does mean that a significant portion of the $30 million allotted to the project by the Administrative Office of the Courts will go toward cleaning up big and little messes along the way.
The Project Development Board, which planned and is now overseeing the construction job, set aside a $1.5 million contingency fund and became concerned when more than half that amount had been spent in the early going, including more than $330,000 to shore up the foundation of the old courthouse before work on the modern addition could begin. As additional changes mounted, the board hired Stites & Harbison, a local law firm, to investigate whether all the extra costs were justified.
The latest complication came up for discussion at Monday’s board meeting when Craig Potts, owner of an office building next door to the construction site, asked to be reimbursed for $4,000 in lost rent due to mold that was found growing on and inside the walls. His tenant, lawyer Natalie Lile, told State Journal reporter Lauren Hallow she had to close her office because of the problem so she wants a refund on rent she’s paid. The board is considering their requests.
Meanwhile, the Project Development Board has had to track down the cause of the fungal growth and come up with ways to keep it from re-forming. A $2,300 air quality study determined there were elevated levels of Pennicillium in Lile’s office. It’s not poisonous but might cause allergic reactions.
Whether the courthouse project is directly responsible is subject to debate. Bill Bridges, the construction manager, said demolition of an annex to the 1835 courthouse did leave a wall of the Potts building open to the weather and the exposed brick absorbed water, which stimulated the growth of mold inside and out. County Planning Director Robert Hewitt said it made no sense to seal the wall immediately when construction work might cause more damage, but the moisture behind the growth will have to be addressed. Metal flashing will eventually be required to divert rainfall away from the vulnerable sections.
This unwelcome news reiterates the difficulty of completing construction projects in the older parts of town where store and office buildings were erected close together. If one burns or gets demolished, the next-door neighbor often feels the impact.
The Project Development Board made an early commitment to keeping the judicial center in downtown Frankfort as opposed to building in the suburbs, so it had to expect the unexpected. That’s something preservationists deal with all the time, but fungal growth is not exclusive to historic properties. There have also been instances of newer construction becoming uninhabitable due to inadequately controlled moisture.
With more than a year of work still ahead for the judicial center project, the development board should take pains to anticipate and correct these problems permanently before additional construction makes the trouble spots less accessible. As auto mechanics often remind their customers, it’s a choice of pay now or pay more later.