ELKINS, W.Va. — Elected officials and community leaders gathered Thursday to celebrate the opening of the remodeled Randolph County Courthouse.
The event included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, remarks from Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor and Circuit Court Judge David Wilmoth, and tours of the remodeled facility.
After individually thanking everyone involved with the project, Taylor said the project was necessary to ensure the safety of county documents stored at the facility.
“I wanted to say by authority of the West Virginia Code, the County Commission in cooperation with the County Clerk and Circuit Clerk, are charged with the responsibility to store, protect and preserve the records that are vital to county government operations,” Taylor said. “Going back as far as the late 1800s, records such as deeds, property, birth certificates, marriage licenses, estate matters, court records and court proceedings are stored and preserved in the courthouse basement.
“Realizing the serious threats to the safe storage of these records due to water leakage from outside sources, this County Commission, along with the county clerk and circuit clerk, with (engineer) Mr. (Bill) Swecker and (architect) Bryson Van Nostrand, came up with a plan to remodel and improve the environmental conditions of the basement storage area,” he continued. “In addition, we realized the needs for electrical upgrades to the courthouse.”
The basement project, from start to finish, took nearly four years to reach its completion.
“The project itself took nearly four years to complete, keeping in mind that due to the confined area, the contractors had to do much of the work by hand because we were unable to bring in the heavy machinery,” Taylor said. “One of the most challenging aspects of the project was the upgrades to the communication and data systems. As many of you here today will remember and anybody that has done research down in the basement can remember seeing miles and miles and miles of wiring and probably about three-fourths of it didn’t work. Today, that’s all changed, the old ones have been removed, the ones that didn’t work have been removed and the ones that are working are neatly bundled and put in a trough.”
A key upgrade that was made during the remodeling process was the addition of HVAC systems to the basement area.
“There is a heating and air conditioning HVAC system in every room where the records are stored. That is very vital to the preservation of the records,” Taylor said. “We are very proud of what’s been accomplished here today and it’s taken a tremendous amount of cooperation on the part of my fellow elected officials and a part of the courthouse staff that had to endure the days of pounding, jack-hammering, sawing and drilling. That was somewhat a task. . . Let me say thank you, we appreciate it.”
After Taylor’s remarks, Wilmoth said he believed the renovations make the basement area more secure.
“This is a big day, an important day. I want to thank the County Commission for their efforts and the work they have done to have the restoration and remodeling completed. The basement is now being able to be used for the storage of records of things the Circuit Clerk and County Clerk are required to keep,” Wilmoth said. “The area that is being created is more reliable, safe and secure than what was available before.”
Wilmoth regaled the crowd with memories of experiences he had in the basement while still in school and while working as a private practice attorney.
“I remember 30 years ago when I was in high school, I spent some time in the afternoons working with Jim Cain when he was the prosecuting attorney. His office was down in the basement. When I came back to practice law in 1991, the magistrates were down here, PeeWee (Heckle) and Doodle (Gainer) held their magistrate courts in the basement of the courthouse,” Wilmoth said. “The renovations that have been done give the public access to the records that the public should have access to, but it also lets the clerks maintain their day-to-day operations without everybody stepping over top of one another.”
Wilmoth said he believes the renovations make an already beautiful courthouse even more aesthetically pleasing.
“We have, without a doubt, the prettiest courthouse in the state. Just standing out here before the ceremony a guy stopped by and said, ‘I really like this building, I’ve never been by here before. This is a really beautiful building.’ On any given day you can see somebody drive by, stop and take a picture of this courthouse,” Wilmoth said. “I’ve been to many different courthouses and it is, without a doubt, the prettiest courthouse in the state. In addition to being aesthetically appealing, the renovations that have been done make it more functional. . . This is just another step in making the courthouse suitable for it’s obligation, it’s purpose of being the seat of county government.”
Van Nostrand, who oversaw the project, said he really loves working on old buildings like the courthouse, as opportunities to build such structures now are rare.
“Working on any historic building there are always all kinds of unforeseen conditions with structural integrity and finishes, things that have been added over the years and ripped out,” Van Nostrand said. “Truth is, basements of these old courthouses are often ignored, you know, leftover spaces that aren’t really fully utilized. When we came into this project, that’s exactly what it was, the basement had been really not well utilized for a long, long time.
“The Commission knew they wanted it to be cleaned up and preserve the records but as you walk around the basement you will see there are plenty of office opportunities. To restore a building back to its original grandeur is something that really touches my heart,” he continued. “We can’t afford to build buildings like this any more. I mean, we will probably never have the opportunity to build a courthouse like this. I couldn’t begin to imagine what it would cost to build something like this today and so to be able to preserve, care for it and keep it, that’s really something.”
The basement renovation project was completed in multiple phases, including a complete overhaul of sewer lines under the floor by Swecker Engineering in Elkins, followed by the replacement of gutters, downspouts and inside flooring as well as a French drain placed around the base of the courthouse by Smith Dozer & Backhoe Services.
After the completion of those projects, the old records were moved to temporary storage in the garage area of James F. Cain Courthouse Annex.
After the records were moved, the demolition phase of the project was undertaken by Allegheny Restoration, of Morgantown.
The next step in the process was replacing wiring throughout the entire basement. The work was handled by Micrologic, of Buckhannon.
Following the demolition and wiring, the renovation portion of the project, including walls, flooring, ceilings and general restoration, was handled by Huffman Corporation, of Bridgeport.
The entire project was facilitated by VanNostrand Architects, of Buckhannon.
In addition to the restoration project, a new generator was placed at the facility which will be able to power the entire courthouse.
The renovations also included a public restroom, a private employee restroom, and a kitchen and break room to be added for courthouse employees as well as the public.