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Restore it or let it go?

HENNEPIN – In a split vote, the Putnam County Board has decided to have tests done on the courthouse building to determine the cost of repairing the tuckpointing of the structure. The testing phase will cost $21,850, but repairs have already been estimated near the $1 million mark.

George Cary of Basalay, Cary and Alstadt, an architectural firm in Ottawa, explained some of the possible problems to the board.

“The mortar that has to be used on a restoration has to be softer than most of what is made today,” Cary said. “We have to find out exactly what that mortar was and try to simulate it. If you don’t, the mortar is harder than the brick, when the materials expand and contract with the heat and the cold, it’ll pop the facing off of the brick.”

Cary said the bricks at the time were more porous than today’s brick, allowing more moisture into the brick and exacerbating the problem. The limestone used in the construction will also probably need to be treated. The stone, mortar and bricks will all need to tested to determine where the problem lies.

“Without doing some testing, a lot of this is speculation,” Cary said. “We need to find out what that mortar is made of and make sure that’s part of the problem.”

If the bricks are all or part of the problem, Cary said they would have to be custom-made in order to conform to the brick in the rest of the building.

“It will not be inexpensive,” Cary said.

While the cost of the project is likely to be high, board President Duane Calbow believes it’s necessary, since the courthouse is the oldest functioning in the state.

“Personally, I think we’re stewards of the courthouse, and we owe it to the county to take care of it,” said Calbow.

“It’s a historical landmark; something we have to take care of,” said Chauntelle Biagi-Bruer. “It seems like a large expense, but it’s something we’ll have for us and the future.”

Board member Willie Holmes, the lone dissenter in the voting, disagrees.

“It’s like taking a Model A and putting a Cadillac body around it,” Holmes said. “You’ve still got the Model A on the inside. I worked here for 10 years, and it’s terrible inside. The electrical system is terrible. You can’t even tell where it goes anymore.”

Sidney Whitaker, president of the Putnam County Historical Society, commended the board for trying to keep the courthouse viable.

“You should be proud of the job you’re doing in preserving the courthouse,” Whitaker said. “We’re really invested in this courthouse ourselves, and anything we can do to help, we will.”

Holmes said the heating system is not sufficient, and the walls are too thick for an air system. He favors using the money and rebuilding but retaining the flavor of the current courthouse.

In other action, the board:

• Discussed the resignation of Marshall-Putnam County Engineer Edward Andrews. Andrews has taken another position, leaving the county currently without an engineer.

• Appointed John Crist of McNabb to the Putnam County Conservation Board.

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