The county commissioners agreed to advertise for bids for the renovations, which include adding a fourth floor security vestibule and interior renovations, along with the sprinkler system, at the Sept. 17 board meeting.
The vestibule on the fourth floor will provide a more secure entrance to the courthouse and with helping with energy efficiency by providing an airlock. The vestibule will also provide an ADA approved ramp that will enable access to the courthouse for everyone at that entrance.
The second and third floor will undergo a reconfiguration that will better accommodate some of the country offices in those locations. Renovations also will include new meeting spaces and an ADA compliant bathroom.
The law library and law clerks will also be relocated.
The sprinkler system drew positive comments from the county commissioners due to the historic nature and prominence of the building in Bellefonte, as well as the town’s history of fires.
The plan is for the sprinkler system to tap into the waterline on Allegheny Street and include a dry system in the attic.
“I am happy to see that we can fit the sprinkler system in. That courthouse is so old that if we were to have an issue in the courthouse, especially when it is not occupied, we might end up losing another building in Bellefonte — one of our prettiest buildings,” said board member Mark Higgins. “And considering that this is the oldest continually operated courthouse in the state of Pennsylvania, I think the sprinkler system is money well spent.”
Commissioner Steve Dershem said a sprinkler system for the courthouse has long been on his agenda.
“If we lost that building, the keystone and a centerpiece of Bellefonte would be lost. It is such a majestic building and it sort of lends itself to the whole character of the town,” said Dershem. “And, we are seeing such a strong revitalization of Bellefonte that just the thought of not having that courthouse there would just be unimaginable.”
“We refer to it as Phase 2 of this most recent project, but truly if you think about it, going back to the early 1800s, this might be Phase 50 or 60,” said board chairman Michael Pipe. “With the finishing of the construction of the Temple Court Building, and with some of our staff moving over there, we have been able to move some dominoes and move folks around to get to this point.”
Bids for the project are due back Oct. 11 and the county will review them on Oct. 15. If approved, Pipe said the county would have a good idea when work would begin by the end of October.
He said $3.2 million dollars in the county capital budget that is unreserved and unassigned is what they plan to use to cover the cost of the project. They do not have a final exact price tag on the project because, “when we start opening up a historic building there may be some additional cost that we encounter, but the $3.2 million that we have unassigned and unreserved will be sufficient for the project.”
There is no fire water pump needed for the sprinkler system as it has been determined that there is enough water pressure to run the system. The plan is to minimize exposed pipes for the sprinkler system in order to preserve the natural beauty of the building.