After an 18 month construction process, preceded by an additional 12 month design and planning process, the Historic Butts County Courthouse officially reopened on May 7th, 2021 as the headquarters of the Butts County Chamber of Commerce/Visitor’s Center, the Butts County Industrial Development Authority, the Jackson-Butts County Council for the Arts and the Butts County Historical Society. A grand opening ceremony packed the main hall of the facility for the ceremonies, which were held at 1:30 PM. In additional to community visitors, a variety of current and retired court officials, some of whom had worked their entire career in the building, came to view the newly restored interior spaces and see up close the engineering and rehabilitation of the historic building’s infrastructure.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Joe Brown opened the ceremony and welcomed those assembled, as well as recognizing those who had worked closely with the project over the past several years. Following an invocation and pledge of allegiance by Vice Chairman Keith Douglas, Commissioner Ken Rivers then recognized the variety of elected officials, past and present, that assembled for the event. This included retired and current Judges, District Attorneys, Sheriffs, Clerks of Court, Commissioners, County Clerks and State Legislators.
Deputy County Manager Michael Brewer, who served as Restoration Project Director, gave a brief history of the building, constructed in 1898 near the close of the 19th century. He also talked about years of Grand Jury reports to the County, highlighting the deplorable condition of the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, its lack of climate control and fire suppression systems and its nonfunctional elevator. The most recent report, received in 2015, noted that the interior condition was an “embarrassment to the County”, and it was this report that galvanized the current Board of Commissioners to do something about it. This first involved getting voter approval for a new SPLOST, which passed by a large percentage and afforded $3 million dollars to the project.
At the reopening ceremony, Brewer noted that “Virtually no part of this building has not been studied, assessed and touched by workers, craftsmen and historical experts and today I’m proud to report to the Grand Jury of 2015 that the Historic Courthouse is once again the pride of Butts County and not an embarrassment to it”.
Following this, Commissioner Russ Crumbley, who is the only current member of the Board of Commissioners to have ever served as a County Commissioner when the Board was housed in the Courthouse recalled serving on the Board during those years. He also recalled where many of the County offices used to be in the building and remembered a number of individuals, many now deceased, that had walked those halls and occupied those offices.
Representatives of Garbutt Construction, who reconstructed the interior spaces and installed all of the new building systems, as well as representatives of Lord Aeck Sargent Architects, who designed the project, were on hand to reveal a new memorial bronze plaque commemorating the project and those involved with it. The new plaque is located on the main level staircase landing just a few feet from the original building plaque that highlights the architect, builder and committee that designed and built the building in 1898. Commissioner Robert Henderson then closed the ceremony with a blessing of the building, after which the building was open for tours.
Just weeks prior to the Grand Opening, the Fire Marshal and Building Inspections Department signed off on the certificate of occupancy, including determining that for the first time in modern history, the facility meets all current building and fire safety codes. It officially opened to the public following the ceremony and a ribbon cutting ceremony will also take place on June 5th, 2021 with the Butts County Chamber of Commerce when the new Visitor’s Center will be open.
Building improvements include:
- Entirely new modern electrical wiring and power distribution system
- New water lines, building plumbing and water distribution system
- Fire sprinkler suppression system with backup generator
- Centralized VRF Heating and Air Conditioning system on all levels
- Fire and security alarm system
- Schindler Elevator (3 levels)
- Foundation excavation, repair and sealing of foundation
- Rebuilding the ground floor level to modern code
- Replacement of slab, demolition of all non-original components
- New restrooms on ground floor for men and women
- New electrical room, low voltage and data room, water distribution room
- New staircase to ground floor level
- Restoration of plaster, wood and marble on main floor level
- New early 20th century electrical style lighting on main floor
- Refinishing original bead board ceilings in offices and heart pine floors
- New bead board ceiling and replicated crown moldings on main floor
- Nonfunctional original radiators restored to original appearance
- Original 9 foot exterior doors missing for 50 years were replicated and replaced
- Removal of damaging magnolia trees and repair of damage caused.
There are two more phases of restoration in the future but the largest and most expensive one has been completed. The next phase will focus on restoring the second floor courtroom level, which is already prepared for this with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems already in place. The final phase will be to restore the roof and paint the exterior components, which was last done in 2011 and needs to be done about every 10 to 15 years.
Many thanks goes out to everyone that played a part in this project, including:
The Butts County Board of Commissioners
(Ken Rivers, Keith Douglas, Joe Brown, Robert Henderson and Russ Crumbley)
Steve Layson, County Manager (2017-2020)
Brad Johnson, County Manager (2021-Present)
J. Michael Brewer, Project Restoration Director
Michael Brett, Project Manager, Garbutt Construction
Austin Dibble, Project Supervisor, Garbutt Construction
Susan Turner, Principal, Lord Aeck Sargent Architects
David Steele, Senior Associate, Lord-Aeck-Sargent Architects
Sarah Pitts, Associate, Lord-Aeck-Sargent Architects
Sheriff Gary Long
Stewart Cawthon, Facilities Director
Kevin Madonna, Facilities Supervisor