Franklin Co. Moving Forward With Courthouse Construction

An ambitious statewide courthouse construction program, started in Kentucky 12 years ago, has slowed because of recent budget constraints. But Franklin County is pushing ahead with its judicial center, which combines the old with the new.

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Dedicated in 1835, the Greek Revival style Franklin County Courthouse was designed by famed Lexington architect Gideon Shyrock. Shyrock also designed the Old State Capitol, a few blocks away. The two-story, limestone courthouse features four Doric columns and an octagonal belfry. A clock made in Philadelphia still faithfully chimes the hour and half-hour. An annex was added in 1970, but Franklin County has outgrown the complex and construction on a 101,000 square foot replacement is underway.               

“(The) community came together and we chose this spot,” said Franklin County Judge Executive Ted Collins. “And we knew by trying to incorporate the 1835 building, we would run into some issues, and we have.”

Collins says the north wall of the historic courthouse started crumbling as workers were demolishing the annex elevator shaft.

“It could delay the project two, three months – I don’t know,” said Collins. “But I feel pretty confident that once we get this all cleaned up and we actually start construction, I think we can do it in two, two-and-half years.

The annex is now rubble. Blanton Coates of Codell Construction says the new building will wrap around the old, and ‘picture frame’ the historic courthouse.

“You’re going to try to salvage a building like this that was built in 1835, but you’re able to build around it,” said Coates. “And that’s something that’s going to last for years to come. And it’s something I think that in the long run, the community and both us, Codell, as well as the AOC and fiscal court should be very proud of, I think.”

Good Shepherd Catholic Church, just south of the courthouse, has been spared the wrecking ball. Father Charles Howell says the church, built in 1850, will become a community center.           

“Lot of history here,” said Howell. “I think it’s bittersweet. It’s a needed move that we had to do a long time ago. It helps advance the county. So, it’s kind of a collaborative effort. I think it’s worked out, although it’s certainly touched a lot of hearts and a lot of sentiment down here. But thank God the old church is still here and it’s going to stay here.”

But that’s not the case for the parish rectory (above), middle school and gymnasium, which have been demolished. The limestone steps leading to the courthouse doors may suffer the same fate, says Willie Vanhook of Codell Construction.

“We left this to keep from undermining where the weight of these columns are, and for any kind of material to be washed away from underneath, so that we wouldn’t collapse anything on the old courthouse,” said Vanhook. “Until we get the new construction designs, we really don’t know what they’re going to do with the front of this building here,” said Vanhook.

“OK. Well, let’s go inside,” said McVeigh. “Very decorative.”

“Absolutely,” said Ted Collins. “It’s all going to be preserved, and improved and cleaned. And if you’ll notice how the ceilings and everything’s been taken out – that gives us an opportunity to put in the most modern technology.”

Collins says the marble-lined entryway and stairs will be restored, along with the brass chandeliers, cherry paneling and benches in the courtroom. And it will be a functioning courtroom, not just a museum piece. Back outside, the Rev. James Shepherd of Frankfort was watching two giant, track hoes complete the demolition.

“This will be a big improvement,” said Shepherd. “I don’t know whether they need to spend $30 million or not, but they are going to.”

Local lawyer Guthrie True just hopes the project wraps up quickly, because the temporary courthouse is several miles away.

“I’m not sure we all thought ahead far enough to recognize how inconvenient it was going to be to have our courthouse in a location outside the downtown area for such a prolonged period of time,” said True. “We’ll all be glad to see it back downtown.”

If Judge Executive Collins and Blanton Coates have their way, that should be sometime in early 2013.