Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pardon our mess, we're under construction

The facade of the west-side Stanton Building (now owned and occupied by Johansen Plumbing and Heating) is looking a little tough right now. When the Facade Improvement Program is complete, rebuilt second-floor windows will have been reinstalled, restored prism glass will have been returned to the street-level window transom and an entirely new storefront will have been constructed.

Norm Prince, who follows goings-on in Lucas County sometimes via this blog, happened to be in town Monday and caused me to wish that we had a big banner somewhere on the square that read, "Pardon our mess, we're under construction." He suggested, and actually this is true, that I work fairly hard to flatter the buildings in the Courthouse Square Historic District in photos posted to the Lucas Countyan. And some of the buildings just aren't looking their best right now.

Now that the entire district is under construction as work on the Facade Improvement Program continues --- completion scheduled this fall --- many of the buildings on the square are works in progress and that can look a little messy. Boarded up openings generally mean the windows behind them have been removed for restoration, boarded up storefront window transoms mean prism glass has been removed for restoration (and won't be installed again until restoration/reconstruction of the storefront is complete). Brickwork repair is an ongoing process and as spring arrives, as many as three constructions lifts have been in use around the district daily. There's a big dumpster parked by the courthouse.

So I told Norm to come back this fall and take another look.


Here's a little history of the project for those who have forgotten the details. It began during 2013 with a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded by the Iowa Economic Development Authority after a tough and highly competitive application process. About a dozen Iowa projects were funded that year.

Project funding was available to all building owners in the Courthouse Square Historic District --- the square itself and one block in all directions from it (plus First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches and the American Legion hall). The CDBG grant provides about a third of the funds for each facade project, the owner another third and the balance is local --- city --- match, an amount that will be recovered through Tax Increment Financing.

All building owners in the district were informed about the details of the project, preliminary commitments were made and the city --- which administers the program --- employed a Burlington-based architectural and engineering firm, Klingner & Associates, to survey the district --- a process that included structural imaging --- and prepare preliminary plans.

Once those plans were in hand and cost estimates available, those who had made preliminary commitments were offered the opportunity to sign a contract or back out. In the end, the field was narrowed to fifteen properties.

Klingner & Associations then prepared detailed plans for each project. Each plan had to be examined and approved by the State Historic Preservation Office because public funds were involved. All of the work done must conform to Department of the Interior preservation standards.

Once everyone involved had signed on to the plans, the project went out to bid as a unit, construction began last fall and has continued on a weather-related basis until now, when it is shifting into high gear.

Because the project was bid as a unit, subcontractors move from building to building to work on their specialties. That's a more practical approach than completing work on one structure, then moving on to the next. But it does mean that the entire district will be a construction zone this summer.

In addition to work undertaken under the Facade Improvement Program, privately funded projects also are under way. Ray Meyer, for example, commissioned reconstruction of the front of Meyer Law Firm himself and another east-side building, now home-owned rather than in the hands of an absentee landlord, is being redeveloped privately, too.

And then a couple of weeks ago, the city took down the shingled arcades that had been in place in front of buildings on the south half of the square's east side since the 1970s, baring sections of facade that hadn't been see in 40 years.

So it's a busy time --- and I still think we need that "under construction" banner.


And, by the way, I checked with County Supervisor Steve Laing on Monday. He tells me we're still on track for an early summer re-dedication of the courthouse clock --- currently being restored in the Twin Cities.


Mary Ellen said...

This is such an exciting project. I so hope when completed the city will apply for a 1000 Friends of Iowa Best Development award; certainly well qualified!

Sonja said...

this is soooo exciting, I grew up in Chariton, Don Hixson of Hixson Photo Studio was my dad. I live in Florida now, for 9 years now....but we are planning on coming up in late July, to visit my brothers, Tony & Brent who still live in Indianola and Des Monies. I'll be so excited to visit Chariton and see the restoration. thanks for the updates and making this cute little town beautiful.

norm prince said...

Regret sounding so negative when we talked and in all fairness, the next morning while I waited for the court house to open I slowly walked the entire square on the court house side of the street. Looking at each building with an appreciative eye for architectural details, the upper levels of many of the buildings offer some great details of the builders abilities. One small but very interesting sight was the carved lions head at the base of an outside stair case. Such a wonderful detail to place at the beginning of a utilitarian stair railing. Also walked the museum grounds and was amazed at all which is there within a rather tight space, yet nicely set up. A large pat of the back to all the folks who offer their time and labor to save the past for us and the future generations.
Enjoyed our brief visit and will look forward to a return trip once the work is completed.

Frank D. Myers said...

I didn't understand anything you said as negative, just pointing out that what we've all gotten used to since last September (like the huge dumpster parked by the courthouse) looks odd to those not here regularly. Which suggests, we're not doing our job of sharing what's going on adequately.