Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 16, 2013

McDowell to see multi-million dollar courthouse update

County officials working to preserve historic aspects

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WELCH — Plans for a multi-million-dollar, large-scale renovation to the historic McDowell County Courthouse are currently underway.

Cathy Patton, a spokesperson for the McDowell County Com-mission, said architects are currently working on the design elements of the project and construction should begin in 2014.

“What the architect told me is it would take the rest of the year to get the paperwork done,” Patton said. “They want to start construction next year and they will have construction completed by 2016 if all goes as planned. They will decide what part of the courthouse they will start on as it gets closer to time. They will be doing one office or one piece at a time.”

Patton said the plans call for the two courthouse buildings to be connected via an enclosed walkway over Wyoming Street between the probation office and courthouse. A parking lot between the probation office and county commission offices will be renovated with elevators and an overhead, glass-enclosed walkway. Another glass enclosure with elevators is planned to connect the courthouse annex and magistrate building as well.

Patton said the architects have brought in Historic Preservation Consultant Michael Gioulis to help maintain the historic aspects of the building during construction.

“They have to retain the historical integrity of the building,” she said. “We have brought in a consultant to help make sure all of the historic aspects of the courthouse are protected. Our offices have not been renovated in years. We don’t have enough space and we need this to be more conducive to doing businesses with our citizens. It is very exciting because it will give a whole different face to the courthouse and help create the right kind of working atmosphere and an atmosphere that is helpful to the public.”

 Patton said tax credits awarded to the architect for the project will help keep costs at a minimum for the county.

“Their estimate is it could be multi-million dollars worth of work but the cost is reduced due to tax credits,” Patton said. “The county commission will be paying a minimal amount on the construction work. Otherwise, this would not be feasible and we would not be able to afford it because these are tough times.”

County Commission President Gordon Lambert said Welch-based Green Tree Consulting, Inc., has been hired to oversee the project.

“We have hired Green Tree to do all the measurements and do all the specs of the building,” Lambert said. “They are working on it now. What we are looking at doing is building a parking building and out of that parking building there will be an elevator that will connect people to the lower courthouse that contains the magistrate c court, county commission and an apartment building the EDA has next door. There will be a breezeway coming out of one of the buildings to the second story so people can go into all these different buildings without going outside.”

Lambert said the courthouse does not currently meet the new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance standards for government buildings passed in 2012. Changes to make the building handicap accessible are required by federal law and the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority.

“It needs to be done,” he said. “Our building isn’t in the best of shape. The courthouse facilities program for the state said our courthouse is in the worst shape of any in the state. We also have to make it handicap accessible, so we are trying to get up to par on that. We are doing all of this under the historic preservation rules currently in place. It is a very historic courthouse, and we don’t want to take away from any of that history. It is very historically significant.”

Lambert said this will be the largest renovation the courthouse has ever undergone, but the county will pay less than $100,000 for millions worth of work.

“We have never had a renovation of this scale,” he said. “In the past, money and technology has not been there for this type of renovation. We are doing this through tax credit. The company coming in to do this will receive tax credit for their work on the courthouse. It will cost the county less than $100,000 but they have estimated there will $25 million or more work done.

Lambert said officials at the courthouse are very optimistic about the renovations.

 “It is very important to the people in McDowell County,” Lambert said. “We are so excited about this. It will really change the outlook of Welch and our county overall. This is something we all really, really need.”

The McDowell County Courthouse was built in two phases with the first completed in the early 1890s. An addition to the original building was made in 1909. The courthouse is perhaps most famous as the location of the Aug. 1, 1921 deaths of Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield and Deputy Ed Chambers who were believed to have killed by Baldwin Felts Detective Agency operatives. Hatfield and Chamber were at the courthouse to testify in a trial regarding a shooting at a coal camp in Mohawk and were killed on the courthouse steps.

— Contact Kate Coil at