Historic courthouse renovation moves forward

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GATESVILLE – For 175 years she has stood tall, serving as a link to Gates County’s proud past.

Now, a mere 25 years short of her 200th birthday, the historic Gates County Courthouse is in need of a major renovation.

At their Oct. 5 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners formally launched an effort to restore the local landmark. The late Federal style courthouse, completed in 1836, is showing its age with cracks to the foundation as well as work needed inside. It is one of a small number of ante-bellum courthouses remaining in the state and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The county solicited RFQ’s (Request for Qualifications) from firms interested in providing the engineering details that will hopefully lead to renovations. A total of 19 companies responded.

“What we now need to do is narrow this list of 19 down to the five or six firms we would like to sit down with face-to-face and interview before we make a decision on which engineering firm we will use,” said Commission Chairman Graham Twine. “I feel they are all qualified, but I would lean more towards choosing a North Carolina company if all possible.”

Twine asked each commissioner to rank their top two or three choices.

“I saw one that really stood out; I was really impressed with WBA (Ware Bonsall Architects of Charlotte),” Commissioner Henry Jordan said. “They took the time to share their approach to this project and how they would do it in phases. They went into detail of what we were looking for. They looked at the most practical way to restore the courthouse.”

Jordan also ranked the McPherson Design Group (Norfolk, Va.) and MHA Works Architects (Greenville, NC) among his top three. He noted that McPherson had previously performed work on the old courthouse.

Commissioner Jack Owens said that Ware Bonsall was also his top choice, adding that they were also currently involved in the design of the new Hertford County Courthouse.

“They’re moving right along on that project, which I believe is a good indication of their work,” Owens said.

He added that he also liked McPherson as well as ClearScapes of Raleigh.

Commissioner John Hora ranked McPherson ahead of WBA, saying he liked the former because they were closer to Gates County.

“There’s a lot to be served, including time, when someone is that close to you,” Hora stated.

Commission Vice-Chairman Kenneth Jernigan chose Oakley-Collier Architects of Rocky Mount as his top firm. He said that firm handled the construction of the new Roanoke Electric Cooperative office in Ahoskie and that REC was very satisfied with that work.

“They also do remodeling/renovation work,” Jernigan said, adding that the Darden Eure firm in New Bern was his second choice.

Twine said all of his favorites had already been discussed and added to the list of those who will be interviewed.

County Manager Toby Chappell added one to the list – Hager-Smith Design of Raleigh. He said that firm was the principal architect for renovations made to the historic courthouses in Chowan County and Camden County.

“I will make the case that the renovations to those two old courthouses are now the standard in eastern North Carolina on how courthouse renovations should be done,” Chappell said. “I’ve been in both those buildings and they’re exquisite.”

The board, by a 5-0 vote, agreed to set-up interviews with the seven firms as noted above. Those interviews are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 26. The commissioners have called a special meeting for 9 a.m. that day to meet with the seven firms.

The county solicited the RFQ’s through the county’s web site and by using the services of Reid Thomas of the North Carolina Preservation Society. The next step will be a Request for Proposals, which will come after the interviews are conducted by the commissioners.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal