A deadlock has left Effingham County commissioners at an impasse on how to proceed in restoring the old courthouse.
Commissioners split 2-2 on a motion to enter into talks with Buckley and Associates on working on the old courthouse and the new jail and eventually agreed to table the matter for two more weeks.
Commission Chairwoman Verna Phillips moved to approve Buckley as one of two architectural firms recommended to the board.
“We have a bid process that has been accomplished,” she said. “Everybody’s objective in this activity is to have the finest preservation of the courthouse.”
She and Myra Lewis voted for the motion, but Commissioners Reggie Loper and Hubert Sapp voted against it. Commissioner Jeff Utley was unable to attend the meeting.
“We have two (firms) staff wants us to vote on,” Loper said. “I don’t see why we can’t solicit from another architect.”
Said Sapp: “I feel the same as Mr. Loper. We have citizens who are concerned with this project.”
A committee composed of county staff and officials reviewed the county’s building needs and the conditions of its buildings. They solicited nine firms, interviewed five and cut the list down to two, Buckley and Associates out of Swainsboro and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung out of Savannah.
Atlanta-based architect Jack Pyburn, noted for his work in historic preservation, especially with courthouses, visited the historic courthouse on Oct. 23 and the building committee met again on Oct. 29.
“The committee stands by its recommendation of Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung or Buckley,” county administrative assistant Adam Kobek said.
Ashley Kieffer told commissioners he didn’t disagree with having one firm do both jobs but said he and others interested in the old courthouse restoration have their concerns.
“Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung is a very respectable firm,” he said. “But how much historic preservation work have they done? The courthouse has been described as one of the more significant courthouses in the state because of its architectural style. We think the preservation of the courthouse should be a stand alone project.”
Kieffer asked commissioners to re-appoint a committee dedicated to the preservation of the courthouse, which is notable for its Jeffersonian design.
“It only seems right after (Pyburn) came down here at his own expense,” Kieffer said. “We’re asking the county to seek out the best firm to preserve the courthouse.”
Phillips said she would feel more comfortable working with someone the county knows and who would be more accessible.
“We have local talent in the area,” she said. “I feel more comfortable getting someone we know and asking them to work with (the Savannah College of Art and Design). I’m more comfortable with someone who is local.”
Phillips pointed to SCAD’s efforts in Savannah and the extensive work on historic buildings that has been done there. She also wants a citizens’ group to be involved.
“(But) Buckley hasn’t done a historic courthouse,” Loper said. “They’re good engineers and we use them. But I don’t think either one is qualified. I think Mr. Pyburn is qualified. I think he should have the chance.”
Assistant County Administrator David Crawley said Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung has restored historic courthouses and is currently working on the more modern Chatham County Courthouse. He also didn’t consider it fair to re-open the bid process to include one architect.
“There are more historic buildings in Savannah than anywhere else in the state,” he said. “I did consulting work for years in Savannah, and they don’t go outside.”