House of Stark: County courthouse nears completion

Stark County Courthouse

In just a few weeks, residents of Dickinson and Stark County may not only be ringing in the new year with parties and hopeful resolutions, but also a completed county courthouse.

Rod Cockeram, of Scull Construction, project manager for the new addition to the Stark County courthouse, believes his construction crews will be clear of the site and the building will be ready to open by the beginning of next year.

“The end of the December is when we want to turn it over to the county,” Cockeram said. “I know it doesn’t look like it right now but we just started cleaning and moving everything out.”

The addition to the courthouse building includes a new County Commission meeting room, offices for judges and attorneys and various other conference and meeting rooms. The addition is three stories tall, including a basement, and connects with the current county courthouse at each level.

While the addition is a significant expansion of the building, from the outside it can be difficult to differentiate it from the original courthouse.

“When you stand back, even today, and you look back into this building it looks like this building has been here since the ’30’s,” Cockeram said. “The idea was to try and match it, not identically, but to make it subtle so you weren’t adding to the building just enhancing it. I think (JLG Architects) have done that.”

Cockeram has been working on the project for over a year, with the completion date being pushed back several times due to unforeseen complications, new additions to the project and waiting on materials to arrive.

“This is the most difficult project I’ve ever done in my entire life and I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Cockeram.

One of the biggest challenges that Cockeram and his crews have faced in completing the project has been connecting the new addition with the old courthouse, that was built in teh 1930’s. Cockeram said that he has had to rely on historical records of nearly century-old building plans and those plans haven’t always been entirely accurate.

“Tying into the old courthouse (has been challenging) because of all the old streamlines, the construction back then, the concrete,” Cockeram said. “We had to go through 17 inches of concrete at each level. I don’t even know how to describe how hard it is.”

Another reason for the delay is that the original plans for the addition did not include construction for a full third story office space.

But even with all the delays and challenges, Cockeram said that he is excited about how the courthouse has turned out and happy that the project will likely come in under budget.

“I think it’s beautiful, we accomplished the goal set from the county,” Cockeram said.

One of the most striking features of the new addition is that much of the western face of the building is comprised of floor to ceiling windows. The new County Commission meeting room, which is also outfitted with flat screen TV’s and an elevated podium for commissioners, looks out directly over Sims Street and fills with natural light when the blinds are open.

“When you’re sitting here it’s going to be so incredible, even just being in the audience in the background,” Cockeram said.

Chairman of the Stark County Commission Jay Elkin is excited about the opening of the courthouse, and estimated that it cost the county around $6 million in total to build. For Elkin, he is most impressed that the courthouse has been designed in a way to emphasize functionality and safety.

“This is for the future of the county, it’s no different then when I take a look at the existing courthouse built in 1936 after the fire in 1935,” Elkin said. “They overbuilt the courthouse looking out for the future needs of the county and that’s what we are trying to do too.”

When they meet at the end of December, Elkin said that the county commission will likely set a dedication ceremony date for the courthouse for sometime early next year.

Most of all, Elkin hopes that county residents will be able to enjoy the new public building.

“The courthouse is always open to the general public,” Elkin said. “I hope the public will take time to go up and take a look at their new building.”