2009-08-27 / Front Page

Commissioners Learn Courthouse Damage Extensive

Renovation Aftermath - Could Cost Millions to Repair

At the Lee County Commissioners' Court meeting on Monday, August 24, 2009, the Commissioners heard a report from Chuck Larosche with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., a firm of structural engineers, architects, and materials scientists specializing in the investigation, testing, and design of repairs for buildings. They have been hired by the County to give an assessment of what repairs are needed to the County Courthouse Building, which has shown significant cracking and settling over the past couple of years.

As reported several weeks ago, numerous cracks have appeared in the floors and walls of the recently renovated building. These renovations were supervised under the auspices of the Texas Historical Commission and were very extensive involving the interior and exterior of the 100+ year-old building.

According to Larosche, the damage to the building is an ongoing problem that is being aggravated by the extreme drought; however, he said that some of the things that were done during the renovation also are contributing to the damage. Among some of these issues is the inadequate ground drainage around the outside of the building. According to the engineers, water does not adequately drain away from the building, and the roof drainage system, installed during the renovation, is clogged and incomplete. They also reported that a significant part of the foundation footing was removed during the renovation in order to lower the basement floor and this has also contributed to the damage to the historic structure. The net result is that the changing moisture content of the underlying clay soil is moving up and down as the moisture level changes, causing the outside walls, with the weakened footings, to move and tilt away from the core of the building.

Larosche told the Court that this will continue unless and until significant corrections are made. Adding to the difficulty of solving these problems is that much of the 'as built' documentation is not available. There appears to be no record of exactly what was done during some the structural renovation.

Under questioning by the Court, Larosche indicated that, in his opinion, 'fixes' to these problems could easily cost $600,000 to more than $750,000 for the drainage and foundation work alone. Structural and interior repair work could cost at least as much as the drainage repair, and, according to the engineers, should not be undertaken for at least a year or more after determining that the foundation repairs are successful.

During the examination of the Courthouse, Larosche's firm took surveys and installed instrumentation to monitor any additional movement of the structure to determine how well the new repairs are working.

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