County Council learns the scope of repair work needed on courthouse

Now is the time to repair the crumbling, water-damaged facade of the Beaufort County Courthouse, an architect told county officials Thursday.

With the economy still reeling and many regional contractors out of work, Miles Glick of Glick/Boehm and Associates of Charleston said the county could get a bargain on millions of dollars in much-needed renovations to the building.

"We have a window of opportunity if we can get this project to bid in the next six to eight months," Glick said. "The bidding climate right now is superb, and this is a great time to take advantage of that. You have to repair this building. It's just going to get worse."

Glick's presentation, which focused on the courthouse but also touched on minor improvements to the county administration building and the Detention Center, kicked off County Council's annual 2-day retreat. The retreat continues today at 8:30 a.m. at the Beaufort/Jasper Water & Sewer Authority in Okatie and is open to the public.

County officials have said the courthouse needs a new roof, exterior and window work, and possibly more substantial framing to repair damage caused by faulty stucco applied to the building when it was built in the early 1990s. The county sued 11 contractors in 2004, arguing that the stucco finish led to water damage. It received an $8.2 million settlement in 2008. After paying attorney fees, the county has more than $6 million for renovations.

The total cost to repair the courthouse, administration building and Detention Center was pegged at more than $13 million. The county likely would sell bonds to make up the difference, county officials said.

Glick estimated it would cost more than $8.3 million and take about 16 months to complete the courthouse renovations, which included replacing the crumbling stucco facade with brick, an attempt to achieve the look of the 19th- and early 20th-century brick courthouses once common in the Lowcountry.

"We have to remove everything off your building," Glick said. "We're going to have to take a giant step forward."

County administrator Gary Kubic cautioned that construction costs could increase if the water damage to the building is worse than expected.

"We're trying to repair a sick building, and what you don't know is what you'll find once you get started," Kubic said.

Kubic said he planned to propose that the County Council award a contract next month to Glick/Boehm for the courthouse renovation design.