The historic Old Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., was shut down Friday and will remain closed indefinitely because of dangerous levels of deteriorating lead-based paint in the building, according to news reports from Lexington.
Images courtesy of The Lexington History Museum Inc.
| Old Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington, Ky.|
Sally Hamilton, commissioner of general services for Fayette County, said the county is “taking the most responsible, conservative steps we can take,” according to a news story in the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Safety must come first.”
The head of the Lexington History Museum told D+D News that an abatement contractor was scheduled to conduct an assessment of the building on Thursday, to determine what is needed to address the problem and what it will cost.
“We know there is a problem, we just don’t know what the solution will take in terms of time and money,” said Jamie Millard, president and CEO of the museum.
The stone building in the center of downtown Lexington also houses the Lexington Public Safety Museum and the Kentucky Renaissance Pharmacy Museum.
Millard told D+D that the presence of lead was discovered when personnel with one of the other museums in the building reported a mold issue. Investigation of that problem found that lead residue was also present.
| Interior views of the deteriorated surfaces of the building’s dome.|
Millard said that no adverse effects on staff, volunteers or visitors are known to have resulted from exposure to lead. He said two young children of a museum manager were tested and found not to have elevated blood-lead levels. The testing was done after it was discovered that lead from paint in the building’s dome had been transferred to other parts of the building.
The company retained to assess the problems identified lead dust on the floors and walls in the public areas, and deteriorated lead-based paint in the dome and basement, Millard said. He said city engineers speculated that lead was pulled from the fifth-floor dome by the action of the elevators moving up and down.
The first, second and third floors were renovated in 2002 and 2003. Walls were painted with non-lead paint, but the recent inspection found lead dust on floors and walls.
Built in 1898, the building served for a century as the Fayette County Courthouse. In 2002, it was replaced with two new courthouses.
The story in the Herald-Leader can be read at Courthouse closed because of lead-based paint.
Millard said staff and volunteers continue to carry on with operation of the museum’s online function, and he said a temporary relocation is in the works.
“We’d like to use this as a platform to help raise the $12 million needed to renovate the building as it should be,” he said of the lead-paint issue and a comprehensive restoration program that had already been mapped out but not initiated due to lack of funding.
Millard said the restoration and renovation program would be aimed at returning the structure to its original appearance. The building was designed in the Richardson Romanesque style by the Cleveland firm of Lehman and Schmitt, and is described as an “architectural wonder,” with the dome composed of a “cube surmounted by a half-sphere,” according to an article by Millard.
”Think placing a circle over a square and you may appreciate what was involved in its construction,” he adds.
“The interior of the building, and the dome itself, boasted features replicating a 14th century Tibetan palace. This, mind you, smack dab in the middle of a small sleepy Southern town.”
Entering the ground floor from the Short Street side, a visitor would look up some 112 feet to the dome, Millard says. As originally constructed, the courthouse featured an open “steamship” staircase (think “Titanic”) that provided an unobstructed view of the dome.
In another article about the courthouse, Millard seeks to address the question about whether the building is haunted like some spooky Gothic mansion.
The courthouse is the center of a local historic “overlay” district designated by the city of Lexington, which sets guidelines on alterations to a number of buildings located in an area surrounding the building.
Millard said the comprehensive renovation plan would address a range of issues, including HVAC upgrades and restoration of the dome’s deteriorated interior surfaces. In addition to old lead paint, the dome is also known to contain asbestos.
“We’ve had a plan in place for 12 years” to restore the courthouse, he said. “It takes finding the money.”