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Allegheny County Courthouse In Need Of Long Overdue, But Expensive Restoration

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's a national historic landmark and the crowning achievement of famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson who died before its dedication in 1888.

"He considered it his master work. He didn't live to see it completed, but he felt that this was one of the best efforts of his career," said Sheldon Goettel, an architect.

But today the Allegheny County Courthouse has lost its former luster and fallen into disrepair, leaving the once elegant lady in tatters and rags.

"It's a national historic landmark on the outside and tenement on the inside," says Judge Jeffrey Manning, of the Court of Common Pleas.

Throughout the courthouse, you can see evidence of water damage, cramped jury rooms, bathrooms with rusted-out mop sinks and a pitched slate roof, which was a marvel of engineering at the time, but is now pocked throughout and no longer keeps out the rain and the snow.

"Really nothing has been done in decades, decades," said Fitzgerald. "The roof is leaking; the HVAC is not in working order. We've got windows that won't close or open."

The county has hired architects to do an inventory of the building's problems and come up with a plan to restore and modernize it. One particular area of concern will be the courtrooms themselves.

"Leaks very regularly, everywhere, from the middle of the room where the attorneys stand at the podium to the pillar behind the bench," says Judge Jill Rangos, of Court of Common Pleas.

Some are put together with Formica, drop ceilings and a fake wood paneling.

"The federal government put $87 million into the courthouse down the street. They have Italian marble. We're not asking for Italian marble, but something better that laminated particle board would be good," said Judge Manning.

The aim is this -- modern courtrooms with finished woodwork, comfortable jury seats and monitors to view evidence.

Over the next decade, the county will prioritize restoration projects in the building while it seeks funding from the state, the legal community and the private individuals.

"This is the public's building. We want to make sure, number one, that it functions for the day-to-day operations of the court system and county government. But also something that people can be proud of that is there building for Allegheny County," said Fitzgerald.

The roof alone is expected to run more than $10 million, so you can see that the total renovation is a massive job. One the county hopes the public agrees needs to be done.

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