Douglas County Commission takes next steps toward repairing, waterproofing historic courthouse

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Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday voted unanimously to allow staff to seek out professional design services for a project to waterproof and repair the basement of the historic county courthouse.

The project aims to fix the courthouse’s water infiltration issues. The work will involve excavation of the courthouse’s perimeter in order to get to its lowest point, testing and repairing the building’s stones, and adding waterproofing drain tile that would connect to a sump pump to collect and move water away from the building.

“Back in 1904, I think when the building was constructed, they didn’t do waterproofing on these types of structures,” said Jay Zimmerschied, director of capital improvement projects. “These buildings traditionally are incredibly porous, and that’s what we’re trying to stop.”  

The building’s two outer stairways will also be deconstructed in order to access the lower part of the building and later put back together. Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid asked how construction would possibly hinder access to the building’s only accessible ramp entrance. Zimmerschied said that although that entrance would be temporarily disrupted, at least two entrances to the building must be maintained throughout all phases of the project.  

“Every single entrance into the building will be affected by this,” Zimmerschied said. “That’s another reason we’re interested in getting a design professional on board.”  

Phased courthouse preservation has been planned since 2006; after an assessment in 2017, the basement was deemed a priority for the county’s master plan. Zimmerschied told the commission that the project is important to maintain the building’s foundation and to improve conditions for staff on the courthouse’s lower level.

On top of that, it makes more sense to fix the building’s “problematic conditions” prior to future projects that involve the courthouse’s lower level, Zimmerschied said. In addition to working on the outer perimeter of the courthouse, the project may progress into more improvements inside the courthouse’s basement. 

A design professional would ideally help carry out the “holistic” vision of the project, Zimmerschied said, and a full design proposal would later come back to the commission for review. The project would also comply with standards for construction on historic properties, he said. 

“It’s easy to say we’re just waterproofing and doing some foundation work, but the truth is it has multiple other components to it,” he said. “When we’re done, there’s the potential for relandscaping, which may be dovetailed in some future phases which we’re hoping we might be able to bring before this board for consideration fairly quickly.”  

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