Courthouse is a work in progress

Maintenance challenges constant at courthouse

July 5, 2013
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Christie Campbell / Observer-Reporter
Boris Brindar of Pittsburgh applies paint using the scagliola technique to metal covers of an electrical box so that it blends as seamlessly as possible with the surrounding wall. Order a Print
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Christie Campbell/Observer-Reporter
To remedy the problem that caused efflorescence, a cast-iron pipe original to the more than century-old building had to be repaired. Order a Print
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Christie Campbell/Observer-Reporter
Gary Bertosh, Washington County director of buildings and grounds, examines “efflorescence” in a stairwell leading to the third floor of the county courthouse. Order a Print

Towering scaffolds are gone and taxpayers have footed the bill for the latest round of about $500,000 worth of dome repairs of the Washington County Courthouse, but, as with any century-old building, the work never really ends.

Once restoration of the interior dome that reaches nearly 150 feet above Main Street was completed in 2012, a crew from Hayles & Howe Inc. of Baltimore, Md., took over, cleaning and redoing the marblized paint on the walls, known as scagliolad, after regular courthouse business hours. The walls are not marble, but actually plaster. The commissioners awarded a $347,965 contract to the Maryland firm last August.

For a while during the following winter, courthouse visitors saw dozens, if not hundreds, of bits of royal blue tape on the amber-colored walls, each bearing a number.

An eagle-eyed courthouse maintenance worker marked the areas for further evaluation and, if deemed necessary, further restoration.

Some areas presented a bigger challenge than the broad expanse of gold-veined walls.

Boris Brindar of Pittsburgh came to finish the job, working on making metal plates as inconspicuous as possible.

A native of Russia, Brindar’s father, Ananya Brindarov, was head of conservation laboratories at the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg, specializing in paintings, murals and icons. The son followed in his father’s footsteps when it came to an appreciation of all things artistic.

Brindar, who moved to the United States in 1991, has a master’s degree in art conservation and art history from the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

“Grills and switch boxes did not match,” he explained one day in the courthouse hallways, toiling quietly as a homicide trial was in session. “It takes a few meticulous procedures. Scagliola can imitate anything here, or you can improvise. Natural stone is my hobby. There is nothing like natural materials.”

And while the water leaking into the courthouse was a major impetus behind the dome repairs, when that was finished, plaster in a stairwell between the second and third floors began bubbling up unexpectedly a few months ago.

Gary Bertosh, county director of building and grounds, called the flaws “efflorescence,” and part of the wall had to be removed to removed to get to cause of the moisture, a leaky cast-iron pipe that had not caused any problems during its first 100 years, but, like Brindar, he said the courthouse needs both constant monitoring and maintenance to continue to function as the showplace its planners envisioned.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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