Home Ventilation system Kenosha County Courthouse Restoration Efforts Underway Ahead of Centennial

Kenosha County Courthouse Restoration Efforts Underway Ahead of Centennial

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Over its nearly 100 years, the Kenosha County Courthouse has seen its fair share of historic events and high-profile cases.

As the clock nears the centenary of its construction, a group is working to help turn back the clock on changes to the building’s largest audience hall and restore architecture that has been covered over or destroyed .

“So, unfortunately, that’s all we have left,” said Frank Martinelli, the county’s engineering project manager, as he walked through the so-called two-story “ceremonial courtroom” on the second floor. stage.

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When the courthouse was built in 1925, the ceremonial courtroom had an arguably more ornately designed twin across the hall, based on photographs. It was originally used as a municipal court, but its interior was gutted and repurposed over 50 years ago.

Original Kenosha County Courtroom

Parts of the ceremonial audience hall may appear unchanged; the white walls accentuated by the dark woodwork. But when you look closer, where the workers carefully removed the paint from the walls and opened the drop ceiling, you can see what was covered.

Kenosha County courtroom walls, computer generated rendering

“There were probably 12 layers of paint, until they reached the original stencil that you can see in the book,” Martinelli said, referring to the stencil on the wall panels shown in a memorial book published for the inauguration of the building.

Over the past two years, efforts had been made to carefully repair the damage done in previous decades. Martinelli cites an example of such damage, when a concrete-like mixture was poured over the art glass skylight that spans almost the entire length of the courtroom.

“We don’t know exactly why. Doing our research, we think maybe it was for safety at the time,” Martinelli said.

Damage above Kenosha County Courtroom ceiling

As well as the damage done in the name of upgrades, at the time. Ornamental plaster cut or destroyed, as well as a frieze of a Lincoln quote ringing from the ceiling, to install air vents for heating and air conditioning. The labyrinth of conduits, wires and plumbing was then covered with a suspended ceiling.

Original Kenosha County Courtroom Ceiling

“It was in the 1960s that they put it all in.”

Now the hope is to change that, restoring the courtroom to what it looked like when the courthouse turns 100 years old. A lot of work to do in a very short time.

“It’s true,” Martinelli said, “but we did it in a very small, controlled space.”

The work of peeling back these layers of change was done with a purpose. Part of the original skylight has been carefully restored. Ornamental plaster fixed. A section of wall painted in its original beige color.

The systematic work done to give the county a better idea of ​​how, and how much it will cost, to restore the courtroom to what it once was. And for Martinelli, there is a personal connection to the courtroom.

“It would be a great honor to bring this back to its former glory,” Martinelli said. “My parents took their oath of citizenship, when they became citizens, in this courtroom.”

This courtroom had housed Judge Bruce Schroeder for nearly four decades. He started as an assistant prosecutor in the 1970s.

“At that time, there were heavy, heavy draperies. Very dark in there. Dark blue chairs on an olive green rug,” Schroeder said in his apartments after a morning on the bench. “Also at that time, I didn’t have much respect for a building that had only been built 40 years before.”

The gaping hole in the ceiling is hard to ignore. Schroeder had told jurors and those at the gallery about it since it had been open for exploratory work before the pandemic.

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“It’s ugly. It’s really ugly right now,” Schroeder said with a laugh. “But it’s part of the process.”

And this process is not cheap. The restoration and mechanical upgrades will cost approximately $3.8 million, including more than $2 million for restoration work. The rest going towards a new heating and ventilation system.

The cost of the restoration is financed by private donations and not by taxpayers’ money. The Jeffris Family Foundation, which helps support preservation work in the Midwest, is offering a $675,000 challenge grant with a 2-1 match. A total of $1.35 million is to be raised through private donations to move the project forward.

And time is running out to raise the funds and complete the restoration in time for the building’s 100th anniversary.

“We’re trying to fundraise over the next two years,” said former Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser, who has been involved with the project since its inception.

“After seeing (the restoration work done at) the state capitol, it seemed like a good fit.”

A blue ribbon committee is now working to collect private donations for the work. The committee is co-chaired by former Kenosha County Executive John Collins and retired Circuit Court Judge Mary Wagner.

Kreuser says it’s a project that goes beyond typical courtroom activity.

“It’s going to be open for mock trials, for civics lessons, for talking about history. The Abraham Lincoln quote that’s going around this spectacular courtroom,” he said. “Those kinds of things, and citizenship, we want to promote here.”

The Kenosha Community Foundation is the project’s fiscal sponsor. To learn more about the project or to donate, visit the Restoration Project website.