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Repair work begins on Niagara Courthouse exterior

LOCKPORT – Work began this week on repairs to water-damaged stones in the exterior wall of the Niagara County Courthouse.

Richard W. Eakin, deputy public works commissioner for engineering, said the project will last about a month.

“They’ve got to work the second shift because it’s right outside the courtroom,” Eakin said, referring to the large second-floor courtroom used by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon. In order to keep the noise from drowning out the attorneys, work doesn’t begin until mid-afternoon.

The contractor is Morris Masonry Restoration of Buffalo, which has a $58,286 contract to make the repairs to the rocks of Medina sandstone of which the main section of the Courthouse was constructed in 1914.

“They’re going to be doing all four corners on the south side,” Eakin said.

The blocks of stone are being removed from the building. The contractor will drill holes in them and fill them with what Eakin called epoxy rebars, which will be used to reattach them to the building.

The freeze-thaw cycle caused some of the mortar to crumble and water to infiltrate behind the heavy stones. They were no longer attached to the structure, but were remaining in place because of their own weight, Eakin said.

The project has caused about two dozen parking spaces to be fenced off for the duration of the repairs.It’s the second consecutive year that repairs have been needed because of the threat of falling masonry.

The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which requires the repairs to keep things looking as close to the original as possible. So the decision was made to reattach the original stones rather than replace them.

“We would have to find Medina sandstone,” Eakin said.

“We’re just not going to be able to find it.”

However, there are exceptions. The stairs on the Hawley Street side of the Courthouse are slated for reconstruction. They were originally made of sandstone, but were replaced with concrete many years ago, before there were any historic preservation regulations. So the new steps, likely to be installed next year, will be made of concrete too.

Sheldon announced in court this week that a new sound system will be installed late this month in her large courtroom, where on some days the judge’s most frequently repeated comment is, “I can’t hear you.”

Sheldon said the new system will feature four large loudspeakers, two on each side of the room, and a fifth speaker on her bench.