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Courthouse Retaining Walls in Need of Major Repairs – kechambers

Courthouse Retaining Walls in Need of Major Repairs

BELLEFONTE — A Center County landmark is going to need a facelift of sorts.

During this week’s Center County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, it was revealed that the exterior of the Center County courthouse will need major work this year. Commissioner Steve Dershem said that the retaining walls outside the courthouse are in dire need of repair.

“The retaining walls on each side of the courthouse are structurally deficient and need to be re-done,” Dershem said. “That’s going to be a major project; a major disruption to our court system. We’re looking at all the options right now and trying to get a better pulse on what it’s going to take to actually perform those projects and the impact it will have on our courts.”

In recent years, the interior of the courthouse has undergone numerous renovations. From paint to sprinkler systems and everything in between, a plethora of work has been done on the inside. Now, it’s the outside that will need some TLC.

County Administrator John Franek explained the process of getting the retaining walls rebuilt and repaired.

“We put out an invitation to bid to five firms that we knew would specialize in design-build, which means that the company would have the expertise in house to actually engineer the proposed remedy to the walls and then commence with construction,” Franek said .

It’s just a matter of time now, he said.

“We’re waiting to hear back from those companies with the proposals. The next step, of course, would be the logistics of it. You know downtown Bellefonte … parking considerations, traffic flow, disruptions to the court … these are all things that will have to be considered as part of this project,” Franek said.

The retaining walls alongside the Center County Courthouse in Bellefonte are crumbling and in dire need of repair. Photo by Geoff Rushton |

The key, of course, will be getting the work done without slowing down the court proceedings.

“The logistics surrounding the project will have to be of equal magnitude to the actual work that needs to be performed,” Franek said.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said that age has taken its toll on the retaining walls.

“Those foundations were put in well over 100 years ago,” Higgins said.

Franek said that the recommendation is “reconstruction.”

“We’ve done some exploratory work. We took some core samples from the walls. It’s low air entrained concrete that is holding up the embankments right now. What limited exploratory work that we’ve done to this point … we’re not seeing much structural integrity behind the actual concrete … right behind the concrete, it looks like undisturbed natural fill,” Franek said.

As far as what repairs will look like and how long they will take, Franek said that it’s all very much up in the air.

“We’re waiting to see what the actual professional designers have to say about it,” Franek said matter-of-factly.

As far as the budget is concerned, Franek said that the county is prepared.

“It was a part of the overall bond issue that we did,” Franek explained.

The $40 million bond issue last year covers projects at the old Center Crest building, the courthouse and at the Willowbank Building.

According to Dershem, the project must take place soon.

“It has essentially moved from a ‘would like to do’ to ‘must do’ project at this point due to the severity and degradation of fill behind that wall. The last thing we want is a catastrophic event that would indicate severe damage to the structure of the courthouse,” Dershem said. “We are trying to be proactive in that regard.”

The Center County BOC officially welcomed Amber Concepcion for her first meeting. She replaced former commissioner Michael Pipe, who left to join Gov. Josh Shapiro’s staff in Harrisburg.

The BOC will meet again at 10 am on Jan. 31 at the Willowbank Building. That meeting is open to the public and will also be streamed live via C-NET.

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