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Virginia Wrecking Co. Leading Demolition of Mobile Courthouse

Wed March 15, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

Mobile County looked into saving its old courthouse at the corner of Government and Royal streets.

But renovating and expanding the asbestos-ridden 1950s structure to meet the county’s need for a home for probate court and other county offices just wasn’t cost effective, said Barbara Drummond, public affairs director for Mobile County.

So the sprawling building is coming down, possibly making way for a new park celebrating Mobile’s Mardi Gras heritage, Drummond said.

Crews began tearing down exterior walls on Feb. 6, but interior demolition work actually began in September, according to Hudson McDonald, director of special projects for Mobile County.

Virginia Wrecking Co. of Stapleton, AL, won the $1.3 demolition contract for the old courthouse.

An extensive amount of asbestos abatement and salvage work had to be done before the building could be torn down, McDonald said.

Among the items salvaged was a mosaic that depicted all of Mobile’s history on several walls. McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory Inc. of Oberlin, OH, was brought in to handle that specialty work.

According to McDonald, the mosaic will hang as a single artwork in Mobile Government Plaza, which now functions as the county’s courthouse, as well as the seat of county and city governments.

Other items salvaged from the building will be used in a new county government annex that will be built adjacent to the old courthouse site, said Jim Walker, project architect with Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood Inc. in Mobile.

The demolition work is expected to be completed by April.

After the courthouse demolition is finished, it will be awhile before a park can be built on the site because the vacant lot will be used as a staging area for construction equipment working on the new annex building, Drummond said.

The annex will be roughly 60,000 sq. ft. and will be built on the footprint of the existing single-story annex along Government Street, which was originally designed for expansion to four stories, Walker said.

They’ll use the existing slab and parts of the first floor, he said.

The new four-story annex building will consolidate probate court services, which have been scattered in recent years, and also include small satellite offices for the license and revenue commissioners, Drummond said.

The annex building didn’t have the same asbestos issues as the old courthouse, according to Drummond, and its location just east of Government Plaza made it a logical place for expansion.

They’ll use the current annex’s footprint but not the exterior walls, Walker said.

Crews will build a new exterior skin of limestone and possibly precast concrete and brick with glass storefront window openings.

Elements salvaged from the 1950s courthouse have been incorporated into the design, Walker said. Features include some light fixtures, granite and marble that will be used for facing and some brick detailing that will be incorporated into the courtrooms.

Judicial functions will be housed on the building’s third floor, which will feature a main probate courtroom seating 90, a smaller courtroom seating 40 to 50, judges chambers with their own secure elevator and an area to transport prisoners to the courtroom, Walker said.

A new security system will include a security checkpoint with a metal detector and X-ray machine to get to the elevators and stairs, he said, and the building will be fully sprinklered, with fire alarms, and will have state-of-the-art wiring.

Walker said he estimates the job will be put out to bid in mid- to late 2006, though that could change, as the project is still in the schematic design phase.

The county doesn’t have a cost estimate on the annex project yet, Drummond said.

Plans to turn the vacant lot into a state-of-the-art park celebrating Mobile’s Mardi Gras aren’t written in stone, Drummond said.

The new county commission is considering its finances before committing to the project, she said. CEG

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