The LaGrange County courthouse is getting a face-lift.
Crews from an Iowa firm that specializes in repairing aging masonry work arrived in LaGrange early Tuesday morning and started an extensive job to restore the exterior brick and stone walls of the 136-year-old county building.
"I'm really excited and really nervous," Gary Mast, the director of maintenance for the courthouse, told The News-Sun. "I've been working for more than year to get this started."
A three-man crew from Karr Tuckpointing LLC of Vinton, Iowa, is expected to be in LaGrange for at least two months doing masonry restoration and preservation work on the building's exterior stone foundation and brick facade.
This is just one of several projects to preserve the county courthouse. Last spring, the courthouse's windows were replaced, and last winter, a new heating system was installed.
Jasmin Saric, a crew leader for Karr, spent his first morning in LaGrange crawling around the north side of the building, electric grinder in hand, removing up to an inch of old grout from between the fieldstones that make up the building's foundation. Most of the mortar is original to the building. The job was dirty and dusty, and Saric often found himself working in the middle of a huge cloud of fine dust.
Once the lion's share of the mortar is removed, crews will begin repairing the ledge that caps the foundation. Saric said he will wash down the stone walls before beginning the process of tuckpointing new mortar between the stones, working carefully to match both the color and texture of the original material.
"Age and weather damage the mortar," Saric said.
In addition, workers in lift buckets will scan the building's brick facade, repairing and replacing aging bricks and mortar as needed on all three stories of the courthouse's exterior. Many of the courthouse's window sills are in poor condition, and those will be repaired.
Finally, the Iowa crew will clean and repaint the courthouse's dome. The Karr crew has brought with it a truck with a basket and 150-foot-long boom arm that will allow them to safely reach and repaint the top of the courthouse.
All in all, the county is spending more than $122,000 to preserve the courthouse's exterior. Mast said the courthouse is a gem worth protecting. In 1980, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places, only one of six buildings in LaGrange County to be awarded that distinction.
"Things have been touched up here and there, but the building has never been completely gone over," Mast said. "This is a renovation. This is huge job. We're preserving the building."