Grant would bring polish back to Clark County’s courthouse

Commissioners must approve matching funds to clean building’s brass fixtures

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The 1940 Clark County Courthouse has retained its brass-trimmed entry doors and fixtures, but they’ve long since lost their luster.

A $33,000 grant from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation will pay for a professional restoration of the brass-trimmed doors, brass elevator doors and brass railings, lights and mullions in the large window above the front entrance.

The grant requires the county to provide matching funds, so commissioners are expected to vote this month whether to accept the grant, said Mark McCauley, the county director of general services.

McCauley applied for the grant knowing he has the $33,000 matching dollars in his facilities budget.

“The appearance of all that brass has really gone south over the years,” McCauley said. “We are trying to return it to its former glory.”

Work could include tearing up the carpet in the hallway on the south side of the first floor — where the jury assembly room, snack bar and law library are located — and restoring the original terrazzo floors to match the central lobby, McCauley said.

The courthouse, which has five floors and a basement, was designed by architect Day W. Hilborn (1897-1971), whose work includes Kiggins Bowl (described by the Department of Archeology & Historic Preservation as “an engineering masterpiece at the time”), Kiggins Theater and projects not named for the late Vancouver Mayor John P. Kiggins, such as smaller theaters in Oregon and the Klickitat County Courthouse.

When the courthouse opened at 1200 Franklin Street, there was one courtroom, and the top floor

housed the jail. The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office was once in the courthouse, as were non-court-related county offices such as the auditor, treasurer and the assessor.

The courthouse’s major remodels include a $8 million remodel in 1987, which doubled the number of Superior Court courtrooms from three to six, and a $5.4 million remodel in 2003 that added two courtrooms on the third floor, as well as two ground-floor courtrooms and a jury assembly room.

Through all of the renovations, the courthouse has retained the brass work.

“We don’t have a lot of historic buildings around here, so maintaining what we have is always nice,” McCauley said. “We’re looking forward to getting it done.”

If commissioners approve the grant, the work would be put out for bid. Some of the work is particularly time-consuming, such as the ridged doors on one of the elevators, McCauley said. The pieces have to be stripped, shined and covered with a sealant to prevent the brass from oxidizing and darkening.

The state money would come out of the Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant program, established in 2005 after a study concluded that 32 of the state’s 39 counties have courthouses with “historic and architectural merit,” according to the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The Legislature allocated $5 million in both the 2005-07 and 2007-09 state capital budget, along with $2 million in 2009-11 for courthouse rehabilitation projects.

For 2011-13 budget, $750,000 has been earmarked for rehabilitation projects such as Clark County’s.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice;http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;stephanie.rice@columbian.com.