Sprinkler system added to courthouse renovation project

BELLEFONTE — An item that was not originally on the Centre County commissioners’ meeting agenda took center stage on Tuesday morning.

Late in the meeting, the commissioners heard from Centre County Deputy Administrator Bob Jacobs, who talked about a need at the Centre County courthouse. As the courthouse undergoes renovations, there is a serious need for sprinklers and fire alarms at the historic facility, he said.

“Right now, the courthouse is undergoing some major renovations in terms of some HVAC work, heating, cooling, ductwork, you name it … there’s a lot of activity going on,” Jacobs said. “Some of the ceilings have been pulled down, we’re looking at renovations to the courthouse, particularly the second and third flooor. We’re going to be tearing down some walls and re-creating some spaces.”

According to Jacobs, during the process of all that work, staff believes the time has come to look at adding a sprinkler system.

“It would be best to look at amending a contract with our architect to include design services for a sprinkler system and a fire alarm system at the courthouse,” Jacobs said.

With that in mind, the commissioners unanimously approved an amended contract with Weber Murphy Fox, Inc. The current contract was for $47,500. However, the amended contract added $25,100, Jacobs said.

The Centre County courthouse is one of the oldest operating courthouses in the Commonwealth.

“There’s a lot of historical significance,” Jacobs said. “These sprinkler and fire alarm systems protect the integrity of the courthouse against a fire.”

Commissioner Mark Higgins said that he’s in favor of protecting the courthouse.

“I know we’ve been talking about this for a little while. If we can actually add the sprinkler system to the courthouse while we’re moving things around and renovating … this may be the best time to do it,” Higgins said.

Jacobs agreed.

“If we’re taking things apart, it’s just best to do it now,” Jacobs said.

The total cost of the fire alarm and sprinkler project would be between $150,000 and $250,000, Jacobs said.

“But we haven’t gotten a firm number. It depends on the designs. Some areas of the courthouse will be sprinkled with water. The historical portions will need a dry chemical type of systems. But those are the ballpark numbers we’ve been getting,” Jacobs said.

Chair Michael Pipe said that the work needs to be done.

“The courthouse is a priceless entity here in Centre County. Of course, there are restraints as far as our capital budget. But this is a necessity. The stars are aligning and we have an opportunity to do it,” Pipe said.

The courthouse’s original section was built in 1805. There were additions and/or remodeling in 1835, 1854-55, 1909 and 1963-64. It is a rectangular brick building on a stone foundation, measuring 135 feet long by 60 feet wide. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

There are also some ADA issues at the courthouse that will be taken care of as well, Jacobs said.

The commissioners will not meet next week. Their next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Aug. 13 at the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte.

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