A crew from Sterett Crane & Rigging extend a crane Nov. 18 over the McLean County Courthouse in Calhoun to begin the process of installing a new cupola on the roof.

One of the critical components of McLean County’s $1.8 million energy efficiency project has started to see additional headway this month with the “heavy hitters” starting to be crossed off the list.

On Thursday, Nov. 17 and Friday, Nov. 18, the county courthouse saw Sterett Crane & Rigging outside with a large crane extending above the facility, which was closed due to the beginning phases of the installation of a new cupola dome, according to Judge-Executive Curtis Dame.

“They are installing the steel substructure for the cupola itself,” Dame said Friday, “and the cupola will basically set over that steel structure and be bolted to it.”

Dame said additional efforts are also dedicated to doing fabricating work to run all of the 911/dispatch antenna improvements, which will also run through the cupola.

Dame said one of the main reasons why a cupola is going back on the courthouse is for it to function as an emergency communications tower.

“We’re going to gain about 32 feet in clearance for these communication arrays we’re going to have,” he said.

With the emergency communications working in tandem with the cupola project, Dame said this will help alleviate current issues regarding the 911 services being disrupted due to inclement weather, which causes equipment to go offline.

The courthouse, which was built in 1908 after the former facility at the site burned down, had a cupola with bell inside until both were removed in July 1976.

“At the time, there (weren’t any) construction methods to make it lightweight,” Dame said. “The one we had was wood, and it was rotted and in a bad shape of disrepair.”

Dame said they’ve also been exploring ways to preserve the history of the courthouse through its new cupola, such as trying to replicate the colors of the previously existing structure. But that has proven difficult due to only having black-and-white photographs of the cupola.

As of Friday, Dame said the majority of the roofing of the courthouse has been completed, along with attic insulation and bat abatement — a problem that Dame said has been a concern since 2004.

Dame said movement has also been made with upgrades to the courthouse’s HVAC system.

While the construction was only permitted for last week, Dame said they plan to move forward with boring fiber optic cables to the McLean County Sheriff’s Office in order to “tie all the facilities together with communication, which in turn sets out about three telephone and internet bills that we’ve got right now.”

“Not only is it energy saving, it’s also telecommunications billing savings as well,” he said. “We’re going to see additional savings that necessarily aren’t on the project report of what we’ve done.”

In September 2021, McLean County Fiscal Court entered into an professional services contract with Perfection Group, a custom-designed service solutions company, seeking preventive maintenance for HVAC systems, general facility maintenance and HVAC retro-commissioning and repair.

Repairs on the courthouse began in September with the resurfacing of the front steps and rehabilitating the existing concrete with the addition of a weather resistant traffic coating.

All exterior lights and interior LED lighting fixtures have been installed.

Besides the courthouse, the sheriff’s office, the McLean County Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Center, Health First Community Health and the McLean County Health Department are also included in the project.

For Dame, he’s happy to see the project heading in the right direction despite some slight obstacles.

“We’re pretty excited about it. It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “...To me, when the project nears the 90% completion stage will be when I get my feeling of relief. We’ve had some minor hiccups along the way just with staging and getting the permits ready and working through those.”

But he said the work on the courthouse has already been grabbing people’s attention, particularly highlighting a conversation he had with Gov. Andy Beshear when he came to visit the county to present two grants in October.

“One of the first comments he and his staff made to me was how great the courthouse looked, and that wasn’t the case five months ago,” Dame said. “...We’ve got to take care of what we got.”

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