WILKES-BARRE — As Luzerne County’s majestic courthouse marks its 107th anniversary this week, county officials are preparing to address water damage to plaster, tile, art and gilding inside.
“It’s a process that began too long ago and has gone too long without movement on it, so we’re happy to finally move this matter forward,” county Manager C. David Pedri recently told the county council.
Interior repairs have been on the back burner since the 2013 completion of a $5.2 million project to stop leaks by refurbishing the courthouse domes and other sections above the roofline.
The county’s 2015 capital plan kept a previous allocation of $2.2 million in past-borrowed funds to repair past interior water damage, but the project did not advance.
Pedri, who had publicly identified courthouse repairs as one of his main priorities when he first became acting manager in January, said the engineering department is in the process of signing a work order with A & E Group, Wilkes-Barre, and the nationally renowned New York City-based Evergreene Architectural Arts.
Evergreene will inventory and assess the condition of all finishes that must be restored, recommend treatments and prioritize projects that can be completed in phases as money allows, Pedri said.
Detailed plans and specifications also must be developed to bid out the restoration, he said.
This isn’t Evergreene’s first involvement in the county. Its art restoration experts boarded a two-person lift brought into the courthouse rotunda in 2012 to photograph and collect test samples of artwork in and around the courthouse dome as part of a preliminary assessment. Support braces were required in the office below due to the weight of the special lift.
See-through netting was later installed at the interior base of the dome to allow use of the rotunda without worries about falling plaster.
The damaged paintings inside the dome include four women representing common law, statute law, moral law and equity that are on a fine burlap material adhered to the plaster. Evergreene representatives concluded in 2012 that three of the four appeared to be stable and intact enough to restore without removal, though common law may have to be detached for more extensive repairs or replacement.
The dome also includes frescoes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin.
Pedri told the council he will further discuss the restoration plans when he presents the 2017 capital plan by the June 1 home rule charter deadline.
The county continues to pursue an active claim against New Jersey-based D.A. Nolt, which completed the exterior dome repairs, arguing the company should be on the hook for at least $691,400 in water damages to interior murals and plaster because it did not properly cover the domes to prevent rain from getting inside the building.
Arbitration hearings on this outstanding claim have been scheduled in September, Pedri said.
Any money recouped will be applied to interior repairs, he said.
The council had agreed to a $375,000 arbitration settlement with D.A. Nolt in February to close out another claim in which the company argued it was owed more than $1.59 million due to costly delays beyond the company’s control.
Work has begun on another project to refurbish the south lawn, including the rear parking area. The project will repair cracked pavement at the south entrance that has forced county officials to carve out a pedestrian path with safety netting to prevent visitors and workers from tripping.
A portion of the fortress-like wall between the parking lot and lawn also has been removed as part of a plan to tie in the lawn to the Wyoming Valley Levee trail running behind the courthouse.
Pedri told the council the project was slowed by the discovery of a 20-inch water line behind the wall. Pennsylvania American Water’s drawings had indicated this line was in the parking lot, which means plans for stairs leading to the lawn must be altered to prevent excessive pressure on the water line, he said.
The project, including paving of the rear lot, should be completed by the end of the summer, Pedri said.