Fayette County

Old Fayette County Courthouse is closed because of lead-based paint

The old courthouse, which housed the Lexington History Museum, closed in 2012 for repairs.
The old courthouse, which housed the Lexington History Museum, closed in 2012 for repairs. Lexington Herald-Leader

The historic Fayette County Courthouse was shut down Friday and will remain closed indefinitely because of dangerous levels of deteriorating lead-based paint in the building.

"We are taking the most responsible, conservative steps we can take, said Sally Hamilton, commissioner of general services. "Safety must come first."

The beautiful stone building in the center of downtown, next to the Fifth Third Pavilion in Cheapside Park, houses the Lexington History Museum, the Lexington Public Safety Museum and the Kentucky Renaissance Pharmacy Museum.

Lead-abatement contractors will be brought in as soon as possible to assess the cost of addressing the lead paint hazards.

"That will tell us more about how long the building will have to remain closed," Hamilton said Friday.

The building has a number of other problems, including asbestos, some structural issues and possibly mold. "We may very well find that we can't afford to address the issues right now," she said.

Built in 1898, the building served for a century as the Fayette County Courthouse. In 2002, it was replaced with two new courthouses on North Limestone.

The problem with lead in the building was raised in a complaint in April from a volunteer in the Public Safety Museum. The city hired Air Source Technology, a local firm, to do a full assessment.

The company identified lead dust on the floors and walls in the public areas, and deteriorated lead-based paint in the dome and basement, said Jamie Millard, president and CEO of the history museum.

The first, second and third floors were renovated in 2002 and 2003. Walls were painted with non-lead paint, but the recent inspection found lead dust on floors and walls.

Millard said city engineers speculated that lead was pulled from the fifth floor dome by the action of the elevators moving up and down.

A fund-raiser planned by the History Museum for Sept. 28 and 29 will go ahead as planned but in a different venue. Money raised from the event originally was intended for restoration of the dome. "Now it will go for restoration of the whole building," Millard said.

Featured at the "History Matters" fund-raiser will be author Steve Berry and his wife, Liz, who will conduct a writers' workshop. The couple will not accept an honorarium for their appearance, and will donate proceeds to the building restoration.

"We decided to use this event to think forward, and not wring our hands and say how bad things are," Millard said Friday. "These are tough times, but things happen in tough times that make for a better future."

An endowment fund, already set up with the Bluegrass Community Foundation, will be designated for repairs to the entire building.