An expansive restoration project involving the exterior of the Faribault County Courthouse is on the horizon, and a three-week bidding period to pinpoint a contractor for the work was opened with authorization from the county's board of commissioners this week.
An icon of Blue Earth's North Main Street since its 1891 completion and recognized by the National Register of Historic Places since 1977, the towered courthouse has not had its exterior professionally cleaned in roughly four decades.
But a package of repair plans formulated mostly by Mankato's I&S Group, which the county has utilized for previous projects, is slated to give the outside of the historic structure a whole lot more than a light washing this year.
The Faribault County Courthouse was built in 1891 and stands as a landmark both for the county and in the city of Blue Earth. The unique castle-like structure even includes this gargoyle head, above, but as can also be seen in the photo, it is also missing the ‘C’ in the word county in the stone above the main entrance.
"We identified areas of the building that need repair and have done this photo-type plan set several times," said Bob Mickelson, of I&S Group. "We're planning for tuckpointing, roof work on the towers and replacement of damaged or missing clay tiles along the exterior."
The photo-based plan, he explained, is merely a visual mapping out of building spots that need work. It is the product of aerial and drone photography, not to mention "extensive site review and engineer evaluation," that showcases just what needs to be fixed on the county's longtime landmark.
And it serves as a preface to what Mickelson anticipates will begin as summertime construction and, ultimately, wrap up in the form of a restored courthouse by mid-October.
Along with tile and tower roof replacement, tuckpointing, or the cleaning and repair of joints in between bricks, is not the only thing on tap for the courthouse exterior.
"Some portions of the building, like near the downspouts, the gutters and the four corners of towers, need to be deconstructed and reconstructed," Mickelson said. "There's some deterioration of brick there."
A low-strength mortar, meanwhile, will likely be used to repair exterior joints between bricks, while a masonry detergent figures to come into play for a non-acidic cleaning of the structure's walls. There is even a possibility, Mickelson said, of replacing plexiglass in the courthouse's bell tower with permanent windows.
When all is said and done, though, even with the work deemed a "long summer project," the aim is not to significantly alter any portion of the courthouse's external appearance.
"We're not trying to alter the looks that much," Mickelson emphasized. "We're trying to use the (original) stone to the degree that it is possible."
Even planned repairs involving downspouts will not force any change of how water is run off the building. And the exterior will be cleaned cautiously so as to purposely leave patina, or the tarnish caused by age and exposure to the elements, on the building's brick.
That is exactly what the Faribault County commissioners echoed Tuesday when they approved Mickelson's request to begin accepting construction bids until March 16.
"The goal is not to notice that anything's been done," said commissioner Tom Loveall. "It's not going to be a shining star on the hill. It's (still) going to be the courthouse."
Commissioner Bill Groskreutz responded with a reminder to the board about the possibility of fielding questions from constituents on the project.
"It'll be done and the public will come and say, 'Well, look what it looks like,'" he said, referring to the courthouse's aged appearance and a black fungus that Mickelson said has spotted parts of the building walls.
"We're not here to rebuild," commissioner Tom Warmka noted. "We're here to preserve it."
Historic preservation society reviews, in fact, were part of the planning process. And with Mickelson shooting to land a single contractor for the entirety of the project, he cautioned the board to anticipate a wide range of bids thanks to the courthouse's labor-intensive needs.
I&S Group's project schedule has April 18 pegged as the estimated date to execute a contract for the restoration plans, and May 1 has been targeted as the projected commencement of construction, with the final completion date potentially up to whichever contractor is awarded the project.
If all goes as hoped, though, things could be moving forward sooner rather than later.
"We want to start," Mickelson said, "as soon as the weather permits."