(Editor’s Note: The Laurens County Advertiser is taking a look at each of the 16 projects proposed to be funded by the Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) in Laurens County. The 1-cent sales tax will be put to a referendum in the Nov. 3 General Election. The final two projects in our series take a look at renovations to the Historic Laurens County Courthouse and improvements to each public park in the county.)
Ernie Segars, a retired Laurens County administrator, county native and local history buff, looks at the Historic Laurens County Courthouse and sees glimmers of the county’s past beyond the cracks, blemishes and damage that can no longer be ignored.
The iconic building, which was built in 1837-38 and placed on the National Historic Register in 1972, has always been and continues to be the county’s most important building in the county, Segars said.
“To me, it’s always been what Laurens is,” he said. “It’s the center of the county. It’s certainly the most important building we have historically, I think. It’s always been at the center of most anything important – government, cultural activity.”
It is also in need of a $10 million facelift, part of which is included in the CPST – a $3.55 million project to restore and repair the exterior and roof of the courthouse and replace the current exterior elevator with an interior elevator that would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The $3.55 million leg of the project is considered the second phase. A third phase, which would revamp the interior of the building, would follow at a cost of more than $6 million.
County Council voted earlier this year to fund Phase One of the project, which replaced the dome atop the courthouse, which was added in 1911, and stabilize leaks that were causing water damage and mold throughout the building.
“We’re calling this Phase 1,” said Laurens County Public Works Director Dale Satterfield. “That’s primarily repairing the leaks in the roof, which we found to be primarily connected with the dome. The dome itself was also in a state of deterioration, and it was continuing to deteriorate.”
In addition to roof repairs and stabilizing water damage, council voted to add fire alarms as well.
The courthouse underwent a construction project in the 1970s, but neither the architecture nor the construction has aged well.
“Things were done to improve things a little bit, but clearly there wasn’t’ enough done,” Segars said.
The CPST project would return the Greek Revival-styled building to the architectural style of its 1911 renovation, replacing leaky windows with updated versions of those used in the early 20th century.
Phase 2 would also replace the roof, which is “well past its lifespan,” and make other repairs to the exterior masonry and other needs.
“It would bring the courthouse back to its original grandeur as far as the exterior,” Satterfield said of Phase 2, noting that the repairs are not just cosmetic and many are connected to water leaks that continue to threaten the building.
Segars said the building continues to serve Laurens County citizens as council chambers and voter registration and elections offices, but the courthouse square makes it even more unique from a historical perspective.
“I think Laurens is one of the few last courthouse square towns in the state – where the courthouse sits in the middle of town,” he said. “It certainly needs to be restored and maintained, but what will be the ultimate use of the building? You look at what Newberry and other places have done, and there are certainly a lot of possibilities there.”
Ultimately, Segars said the courthouse can continue to be what it has always been – a centerpiece for all things Laurens County. He sees a natural synergy with the square and the Laurens County Museum, which is in the process of relocating there, for years to come.
“When I was growing up, there would be pep rallies, polticial events, cultural events,” Segars said. “Whatever was happening, the courthouse was in the center of it.”