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At 100-plus, county’s crown jewel gets spiffed up

The upper portion of the Luzerne County Courthouse is encased in scaffolding as part of a $5.2- million restoration project.

CLARK VAN ORDEN/THE TIMES LEADER

WILKES-BARRE – The historic Luzerne County Courthouse is buzzing with contractors as a sweeping $5.2 million restoration project kicks into high gear.

The stairs on the northern side have been removed for a new support system to be installed, and that work will be replicated at the stairs on the building’s eastern and southern sides.

The building’s upper portion is encased in scaffolding as contractors prepare to manually scrape and rub off layers of deteriorating white waterproof coating from the terra cotta tiles on the main dome and four smaller ones.

Exterior stone and decorative finishes are being cleaned, repaired and repointed, and roofline edges and overhangs are being prepped for installation of a durable flashing that will have a grayish tint complementing the future color of the domes.

Gray domes will drastically alter the appearance of the building, but the color was chosen because tests showed the domes were light gray when the building was constructed a century ago.

Scaffolding has also been erected inside the building for removal of the four large stained glass windows.

The stained glass windows must be restored because they have cracks and need new lead caning. New window frames are needed because the old ones are rotting. Plywood will cover the openings while the stained glass is gone.

Removing the fragile treasures seems like a hair-raising mission, but county Chief Engineer Joe Gibbons said he will ensure all steps are checked and rechecked. The stained glass panels will be disassembled in rectangular sections that are about 5 feet wide and 2 feet tall.

“We will make sure the utmost care is taken to make sure the stained glass is protected,” he said.

The scaffolding – inside and out – must be certified by a structural engineer before it’s used, he said. The contractor – D.A. Nolt Inc., of Berlin, N.J. – must also submit detailed plans explaining processes that will be used to remove the stained glass and complete other work on the building, he said.

The stained glass removal will primarily be done during off hours because the courts will still be in use during the day, he said.

Contractors should be tackling removal of the dome coating in a few weeks, Gibbons said.

Workers will be attached to harnesses on steel safety lines. They can’t leave traces of the old waterproofing in any nooks or crannies of the terra cotta because the county demanded a 25-year warranty on the new coating, Gibbons said. The company won’t guarantee the new product without a clean base, he said.

“It will be a lot of elbow grease getting that waterproofing off,” he said.

All work on the upper portion of the building was designed to stop leaks that damage the interior. Staircase repairs were added to the project because the steps were settling.

The project was targeted for completion in October, though an extension may be needed because of rain delays, Gibbons said.

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