Rare Restoration

Jefferson County Courthouse
cupola work requires involvement
of specialty company

Only a handful of capable
companies exist in the nation

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(March 2010) – Back in the early 1950s, students at a little Bible college in Campbellsville, Ky., could earn a few dollars by helping local pastors build church pews, lecterns, and other church-related accessories. Word of their skills spread, and before long churches were asking the students to build steeples.
By 1955, the steeple-making portion of the business became so big, the work study program was privatized and became Campbellsville Industries, one of the foremost experts in steeples and cupolas today.

New Courthouse Cupola

Drawing provided

The cupola atop the
Jefferson County
Courthouse will look
similar to the
original one.

The company is one of only a handful of companies in the country that can do the specialized work, and it is one of the companies that is expected to bid on the project to rebuild the cupola, or dome, of the historic Jefferson County, Ind., Courthouse.
A fire broke out on May 20, 2009, and engulfed the 150-year-old belltower and destroyed the roof over the third-floor Circuit Courtroom.
The 24,000-pound belltower, which began to lean southward in the immediate days after the fire, was cut in half and workers removed the top half. Workers also carefully removed the 3,118-pound bell from the belltower and placed it into storage, where it remains today.
Bids for the cupola rebuild project will be let on March 26, according to Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Pietrykowski. It is expected to be awarded at the commission meeting in April. Construction is due to begin by summer and will take five or six months to complete.
“Insurance funds will provide the money for the ‘as is’ portion of the work,” said Pietrykowski. “Any upgrades will have to be paid for by additional funds.”
Already, work is under way to restore the historic building. North Vernon, Ind.’s Harmon Construction is expected to have the roof on the courthouse rebuilt by the end of March, weather permitting, said Pietrykowski.
Indianapolis-based American StructurePoint is the architectural engineering firm leading the project. The company, which designs everything from bridges and highways to county buildings and banks, became involved in the courthouse project immediately after the fire. Its forensics department arrived on site the next day to conduct a structural analysis and help assess fire damage.
The company designed the plans for the roof and the cupola reconstruction. It worked closely with historic interests, including Historic Madison Inc. and Arch Trio to follow historic preservation guidelines. The courthouse is a major building in Madison’s National Historic Landmark District designation.
County Commissioner Julie Berry traveled to the site where K&T Truss, an Amish company, handcrafted portions of the roof supports and pieces to closely resemble the originals. “It was amazing to watch,” she said. “They did a fantastic, quality job.”
In the days following the fire, Historic Madison Inc.’s executive director John Stacier and program director Heidi Valco Kruggel combed the rubble looking for salvageable items of historic interest. American StructurePoint’s Rob Creviston was right beside them in the mess searching for valuable items.
“We took some of the items that we did find and measured and photographed them,” said Creviston, the team leader on the courthouse project. “We have also used old photographs to piece back together the dimensions of the cupola. It will be a close match to the original.”
Campbellsville Industries, nicknamed “The Steeple People... Plus” has more than 17,000 installations located throughout the nation and in at least six foreign countries. Not only does the company make steeples, but it also makes ballustrades, picket railing, baptistries, bulletin boards, clocks, cupolas, columns, cornices, crosses, domes, finials, louvers, towers, urns and weathervanes.
Some of the companies more recent and well-known projects include the four corner cupolas on the West Baden Springs Hotel, in French Lick, Ind., and the new, copper Hoboken N.J., Ferry Terminal Clock Tower built to replicate the 1941 original.
“We do both historical reconstruction and new construction,” said Campbellsville Industries’ Dave Manning.
On a project such as the Jefferson County Courthouse, Manning said the actual cupola would be fabricated at the factory. When ready, the pieces would be transported to Madison, where they would be hoisted onto the roof of the building and secured together.
Creviston said because the cupola on the courthouse has actually burned more than once, the replica will not be made of wood. Instead, it will be made of either an aluminum product or a fiberglass reinforced polyester resin, or FRP, that duplicates wood. Both materials are noncombustible and low maintenance.
“As long as we replicate shape and colors of the original cupola, it will be within historic preservation guidelines for such a building,” he said.
The cupola will contain four clocks with 12-inch Roman numerals. Creviston said the previous clocks had eight-inch numbers. Electric chimes will replace the bell.
Berry said the historic bell was damaged in the fire and commissioners decided not to rehang it in the new belltower. Instead, it will be displayed in some type of fashion, possibly in the foyer of a new 10,000-square-foot expansion on the southside of the building.
“In 1997, a space study was conducted, and it was determined that we are 11,000 square feet short of space,” said Berry. “We have plans being drawn up for an addition that would include extra courtroom space.”
If approved by county council members, Berry said the expansion would be paid for through means other than new taxes. “We are seeking an economic development grant from Lawrenceburg, Ind.”
The expansion would be part of the interior phase of the rebuilding project.

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