Franklin courthouse plan will save church, old courthouse

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2009 

FRANKFORT—A new courthouse project that was almost derailed by community anger over the fate of Frankfort's old courthouse and its Good Shepherd Catholic Church now appears to be sailing forward as a model of compromise.

"We've had a lot of public input and now a lot of support for this particular design," Franklin County Judge Executive Ted Collins said of the $30-million proposal that literally embraces the 1835 courthouse designed by Gideon Shyrock, who also designed the old State Capitol a few blocks away.

The facilities committee of the Administrative Office of the Courts unanimously approved the project to begin site preparation at a meeting on Thursday.

Last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice D. Minton Jr. suspended the project because of community factions fighting over sites and design. Some feared that both the church and the old courthouse would become casualties of the Kentucky court system's $880 million effort to put a new courthouse in every county in the state.

However, county officials resolved a number of issues over the site, including a $1.4 million purchase price for the church property behind the current courthouse.

The current design replaces two additions to the old courthouse, from the 1940s and the 1960s, to form two curved wings on either side of the original building on St. Clair Avenue, which is part of the historic downtown near the Kentucky River. The shape and size of the 96,664 square foot design means there is one less courtroom than originally conceived, but the judges agreed to be flexible about their use.

The 1920s Good Shepherd school building on Wapping Street will remain church property. The 1858 sanctuary with its distinctive steeple will become a non-profit center, possibly to showcase the work of 19th-century artist Paul Sawyier, who lived in Frankfort and used the church in several of his paintings.

"This has been a pleasant surprise," said Scot Walters, a Frankfort resident who works for the Kentucky Heritage Council. "This is a good compromise of historic preservation and new construction."

The new courthouse program has been marred by a messy battle over construction bonding with Codell Construction, which is the construction manager on the Franklin project. The company has already provided a pre-construction bond for the project.

"This building is very significant because it represents how collaboration with the local community results in a building that everyone wants," Minton said shortly after the committee's vote.

J. Richard Kremer, president of Louis & Henry, of Louisville, is the building's architect. There are plans to seek a certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which recognizes appropriate structures through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate said it was important for the new courthouse to remain downtown without becoming a blight on the urban historic landscape.

"We wanted to stay and preserve history at the same time," he said.

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