Donna Street (above) and her associates in the Dade County Historical Society will be giving tours of the historic Dade courthouse at 1 p.m. on Saturday. She arranged a quick preview on Thursday for The Planet, and here are some photos from that glimpse. For those thinking of going, consider this Planet pictorial an enticement. For those who can't make it, consider it a consolation prize.
"Watch for nails!" said Ms. Street. The courthouse is in much better shape than it was even at the beginning of the week. Masses of construction debris have just been removed to make the place presentable for the tour. But that doesn't mean it's ready for primetime. The old building retains a thick coating of dust and corners retain some clutter. Here county workers put in a few minutes' work on Thursday making the courthouse steps safer.
The courthouse has sat empty since 2010, but Ms. Street stresses it had its problems well before then. This stain in the main courtroom upstairs is from a leaky chimney that gave the courthouse staff miseries for years. “You hear Rex and Sarah tell stories about having to put mop buckets up here to catch the water,” said Ms. Street, referring to former Superior Court Clerk Sarah Moore and Rex Blevins, who was formerly a parole officer. “All of the county offices were in this building, the sheriff, the school superintendent, everything,” said Ms. Street. Many, of course, had moved out, first to the Justice Building and then to the Administrative and Board of Education buildings, before the new courts facility was built to house the last staffers left here.
A view from the second floor of the old Ann-Other building, a Bradford pear turning from white to green ... and the inevitable campaign signs.
Court offices were once heated by fireplaces like this. Later the courthouse was kept warm by a furnace in the basement. But not that warm. Sarah Moore remembers working in her coat all winter.
The judge's area of the upstairs courtroom will be left the way it was--except the bookcase that has been pushed in front will be moved. The rest of the courtroom is being cleared for open space.
The chairs that were affixed to the floor in the audience section have been unscrewed and scooted back to make room. “We want to be able to have a dance in here, we want to be able to have a wedding in here, we want to be able to have a party in here, we want to be able to have a play in here,” said Ms. Street. As for the uncomfy old chairs: “We’re going to keep them in the county in case anybody wants to make a move and they want to use the original chairs,” she said.
Ms. Street points to a wall where a patch of green paint beneath the blue allows her to date it to 1954. “I found a newspaper article from the 1950s where they said they’d just painted the courthouse 'a lovely green,'” said Ms. Street. That green is not quite so lovely by today's standards, perhaps; but please note the royal purple of Ms. Street's manicure, which is tres à la mode!
Windows at the courthouse have already been replaced with historically correct new ones via contributions--many Dade citizens have stepped up to pay for windows which will bear their names. But Ms. Street pointed out a problem. All the windows were supposed to be like the ones above, three panes across, four down.
But the contractor put in some windows that are four across, three down--still 12 panes, but no cigar. The contractor will have to eat the cost of the fix, says Ms. Street.
An elevator--required to make the building handicapped-accessible--was already in construction in March 2015 when Ms. Street and the other historical preservation team members began planning. She says the electricity should be turned on by Saturday so those interested can have a ride.
There's lots left to be done. The courthouse's ceilings were dropped at some point, and the reno will take them back up again. As much of the new lighting will be LED and energy-efficient as possible. Inmates have put in hundreds of hours tearing up carpets and taking out walls, but there's a million-plus dollars' more work before the courthouse is finished. “We’ve done what we could by paying for it a piece at a time," said Ms. Street. "It’s time for that nonsense to go away. We need to get on with this and get this done.”
Ms. Street hopes TSPLOST, the transportation special purpose local option sales tax up for referendum in May, will pass and allow regular SPLOST dollars to be devoted to the renovation. Three different SPLOSTs have courthouse renovation as approved projects. But realistically, Ms. Street still thinks a lot of the money will have to come from donations. “This needs to be a partnership between public and private,” she said.
Again, the courthouse tours begin Saturday at 1 p.m., just after the Dade Historical Society's meeting and lunch earlier in the day.