In early 2020, the Lenawee County Board of Commissioners decided it was finally time to update and restore Lenawee County’s Courthouse for the next 100 years of serving the community. The County Courthouse is a cherished historic building but, as it was built in the 1800s, it didn’t have the heating and cooling, technology, or security needed to make it a truly functional office space that could safely and effectively serve the needs of the county.
The County Courthouse holds a special place in the community’s vibrant history, so renovating this space meant honoring and preserving the past while adding just enough modern technology to improve the safety and functionality of the building, without hindering its historical charm.
The original Lenawee County Courthouse was devastated by a fire that destroyed years of local court documents, birth certificates, marriage records, and other irreplaceable documents. The impressive building we see today was built to house county operations and was completed in 1884. For nearly 100 years, the County Courthouse was the home for courts, record-keeping offices, and the county treasurer until a designated judicial building was erected in 1978, leaving the County Courthouse to house the administrative and record-keeping offices of the county.
Originally, the courthouse was heated with fireplaces and illuminated with oil lamps, both of which can still be seen by visitors today- though only as decoration. The push to renovate truly came when a repair job exposed the beautiful, original ceilings. With several safety, climate control, and functionality issues facing the employees and citizens utilizing the courthouse on a daily basis, the county administration decided to lay out careful, conservative renovation plans for the courthouse that would utilize taxpayer dollars efficiently, benefit the community, and create lasting improvements.
Because the County Courthouse was built in the 1800s, its safety features needed to be updated to fit today’s standards to protect our county employees and citizens. A team of contractors added a state-of-the-art fire suppression system and security systems to protect the administrative and historical records that are kept there. They added handicap-accessible entryways and bathrooms to accommodate all members of our community.
Climate Control Updates
A new HVAC system was added to the building, which will save money on repairs, routine maintenance, and electric, heating, and cooling expenses.
To improve the functionality of the courthouse and make better use of the space, the offices were rearranged so services are all located on the first and second floor, opening the space on the lower level for three additional meeting rooms. Relocating offices also increases the accessibility to the public, as everything citizens need is in one convenient location.
Preservation and maintenance of county buildings is built into the county’s annual budget, so Lenawee County taxpayers saw no increase to their taxes for these renovations. With increased functionality, safety, and climatization, the building’s monthly electric and maintenance costs will decrease as well as the likelihood of major repair costs from weather or fire-induced damage.
The courthouse is a crucial piece of Lenawee County’s history so special care was taken to preserve the structure, design, and intricate details of the courthouse.
Master crafters recreated plaster flowers, blended trim work, and restored hardwood flooring throughout the building. The wheat mosaic in the center of the building was repaired and preserved while the two, formerly enclosed, grand staircases were opened and beautifully restored.
The area between the first and second floor is once again open, restoring the rotunda to its original size. From the balcony of the rotunda, you can now look down upon the wheat mosaic tiles of the first floor or look up to a fantastic stained-glass dome created specifically for this building. The artist, Victoria Balva, incorporated architectural designs from the exterior of the building and captured the spirit of the building while adding hints of lavenders, peaches, and pinks.
The courthouse holds much of the local government’s administrative services but it also holds much of our rich history. Properly preserving the County Courthouse means creating a legacy for the future and with the improvements we’ve made in less than two years, this historic building is ready to serve the community for generations to come.