Much awaited and perhaps a little controversial along the way, the multimodal access improvement project around the Lincoln County Courthouse is now complete, offering residents and visitors alike new safer sidewalks as well as wider vehicle paths around the square’s inner-loop.
While it was a project a long time in the making, the loss of 22 parking spaces downtown now seems almost unnoticeable as many courthouse employees have taken one for the team, parking a block away and either walking or catching a ride to work. In addition to the new sidewalks and wider inner-loop, the project also included more accessible pedestrian crosswalks, bike racks, and channelized entry and exit points.
“It’s been a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it,” said Tim Gill, superintendent of roads for Lincoln County, as he recalled first learning of state grant opportunities in 2013 to fix the uneven, cracked and broken sidewalks around the courthouse’s perimeter. “I knew the sidewalks up here were in bad shape, so when I learned of the grants, I took it to Peggy Bevels.”
Bevels, then county mayor, didn’t waste time seeking the County Commission’s support in pursuing a Tennessee Department of Transportation multimodal grant. Awarded in 2014, the project ultimately cost $721,455 to complete, including $225,000 in local funding, plus another $13,000 to complete milling and paving the inner-loop and $13,786 in shared costs with the city to replace conduit and wiring associated with the vintage lighting fixtures skirting the property, work done at cost by Fayetteville Public Utilities.
While Bevels wasn’t able to see the project through, County Mayor Bill Newman picked up the challenge, along with Gill, Register of Deeds Randy Delap, and County Finance Director Cole Bradford, who each play key roles when it comes courthouse improvements.
“It’s been a lot of back and forth work as we had to keep redoing drawings and resubmitting to the state and bidding and rebidding the project,” said Newman, explaining that increased costs forced the county to re-assess plans twice to cut project costs. There were aspects of plans totally omitted due to costs, such as repairs to the retaining wall at the edge of the courthouse lawn. Touching it would have meant redoing steps and sidewalks leading to the courthouse in accordance with TDOT and ADA requirements.
“We’ve been very pleased with Collier Engineering, Charles King and Becky Smith,” said Newman, referring to two of the engineering firm’s key people on the project. “We’ve also been pleased, too, with Adams Contracting.”
“It’s represented a lot of changes for people,” said Delap, “but it is better, and we sure appreciate everyone’s patience.”
“And it’s going to get better yet,” said Newman. “When I got into office, I told Cole I wanted us to know what kind of shape our buildings are in, because I didn’t know our building had the problems it did ... I knew the USDA and Ralph Hastings buildings had problems, but I had no idea about the courthouse and the Health Department – those are the four primary buildings that we have. Surprisingly, there are no deficiencies at the health department.”
With foundation work underway at the USDA building and roof replacement at the Ralph Hastings Building done last year, other work has also been done at the courthouse, including repairs to deteriorating porches and in the basement access area as well as some minor repair work to a balcony.
Handrails at the east and west entrances were being installed last week after some issues with the quality of workmanship by a subcontractor on that aspect of the project – the railings had to be extended to meet specifications and coated with particular substance to ensure durability, according to specs.
The bandstand has also undergone facade and foundation repairs, Delap noted, adding that rock the county highway department had from an old bridge was used to reform the bandstand’s steps. The bandstand’s floor finish, rejected because of a curing issue with a coating product, will also be redone.
Two trees will also be planted on the property this winter, replacing other trees that had to be removed.
Still to be done is work to the retaining wall around the courthouse. Eliminated from the multimodal project, the wall’s repairs are funded as part of the county project. Preliminary design work is underway on that, as officials have budgeted for filling and sealing. That aspect of the restoration effort is expected to proceed to bid soon.
Work related to roof restoration and clocktower painting is expected to be bid early in 2019.
Altogether, $180,000 has been budgeted for the other improvements. Officials anticipate that in the future funds can be set aside for window replacement and upgrades to the building’s fire alarm system.