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County holds off on courthouse architect
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Effingham County commissioners have pushed back the decision on hiring an architect to take a look at renovating the jail and the old courthouse.

Commissioners will meet next week with Atlanta architect Jack Pyburn, a renowned historical preservation expert, about what needs to be done about the old Effingham County courthouse. The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We need to get the right people to look at it to get the right people to do the job,” Commissioner Reggie Loper said.

Assistant County Administrator David Crawley wondered about the fairness of opening up the process when the county was about to decide which of two firms to contract for the jail and the courthouse.

“If you are asking staff to reopen the process, we need to reopen the whole process,” he said. “That’s the ethical way to handle it.”

County staff solicited proposals from nine firms that had done similar work in the area and winnowed that list to four. The final cut came down to James W. Buckley Associates and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung.

County administrative assistant Adam Kobek said they also looked at lists of firms that had done such work compiled by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Georgia Historic Preservation Division.

Loper said Patricia Barefoot, a historic planner with the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center, told him “that is one of the most important courthouses in the state.”

Ruth Lee asked the commissioners to make sure whoever they hired had expertise in historic preservation work. She said on a bus tour several years ago, visitors went from New Ebenezer to the courthouse just as the light was striking it from an angle.

“You should have heard the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ on how beautiful that building was,” she said.

Lee said the two firms the county staff has narrowed the field down to don’t have the kind of expertise necessary to restore the old courthouse.

She suggested talking to Pyburn, who has restored several courthouses and historic structures across the South, and perhaps talking to the Savannah College of Art and Design’s historic preservation department.

“This is expertise we have right there,” Lee said.

Commission Chairwoman Verna Phillips said there has been discussion about engaging SCAD on the courthouse.

Commissioner Reggie Loper also praised Pyburn’s work, which includes the Cherokee, Gwinnett and Newton county courthouses.

“I don’t think we need to jump in on the courthouse until we know what we need to do,” Loper said.

“I think that’s what we’re looking for an architect to do,” Crawley said.

Commissioners also explored the possibility of splitting up the work. The condition of the courthouse needs to be checked and how sustainable it is needs to be determined.

“We need to find out how structurally sound these buildings are before we go anywhere,” Commissioner Jeff Utley said. “We need someone working on the jail.”

County Administrator Ed Williams said the county hasn’t been told if the jail is bad structurally.