Second Phase Of Courthouse Restoration Project Underway
WILKES-BARRE — Phase two of the Luzerne County courthouse restoration project is less elaborate than phase one, which included a virtual city of scaffolding as workers scrubbed a century’s worth of dust, grime and smoke from the courthouse dome.
This time, the work is up close and personal.
Crews from EverGreene Architectural Arts have been at the courthouse since February. They are cleaning floors, marble, paintings and murals in preparation for the restoration of the artwork, much of which dates from 1909, when the courthouse opened.
Rick Wagner, a superintendent on the project, carefully cleaned a section of mosaic tiles on the walls of a hallway on the first floor of the courthouse last week. He stood on a platform raised by a hydraulic lift, hoisting him within inches of the work area.
The restoration project, which county council approved last year as part of this year’s capital fund budget, is going well, according to Wagner.
“People will see quite a difference” when the project is completed, Wagner said.
The difference between “before” and “after” will be especially striking in the restored artwork, he said.
Specialists at EverGreene’s main office in Brooklyn, New York are working to determine the colors and tones used by the original artists, Wagner said.
The many decades during which smoking was permitted in the courthouse led to “a lot of nicotine damage over the years,” he said.
The most common question from courthouse workers and visitors is “When are you going to finish the artwork?” Wagner said.
That should happen within the next few months.
The cleaning and preparation portion of the project should be completed by July, after which crews will devote all their efforts to the artwork restoration, Wagner said.
The project had been scheduled to finish in August, but it now looks like it will stretch into September, according to Lawrence Plesh, county engineer.
EverGreene asked for more time to complete the work based on a close examination of the details of the paintings, some of which “had been obscured over time,” Plesh said.
The project is still expected to come in at its budgeted cost of $527,645, he said.
For Wagner, the courthouse restoration allows him the rare chance to sleep in his own bed while on the job.
Wagner lives in Albrightsville, but said he has traveled across the country to work on restoration projects.
“This is the first time in 20 years I’ve been able to go home at night,” he said.
While the first phase of restorations, completed last year, effectively closed off part of the courthouse rotunda for months, the current project has had minimal impact on day-to-day operations, according to Plesh.
Signs are posted near entrances to alert visitors to the ongoing work.
“The historic architectural elements will be cleaned and conserved,” the signs state. “The missing and damaged elements will be repaired and replicated.”
The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
EverGreene’s website describes the company as “the nation’s largest specialty contractor of architectural arts.”
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