The crucial second phase of the Jackson County Truman Courthouse renovation project began Monday, March 16. Completing this phase, which includes removing retaining walls that have caused water to repeatedly be trapped around the building's foundation, is essential to preventing the historic landmark from deteriorating further.
Citing that the very survival of the building was at stake, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders indicated that delaying this project was not an option. During a January 30 news conference, he declared that the condition of the Truman Courthouse represented a "public emergency." The declaration enabled the County, under both the Jackson County Charter and Missouri State statute, to release money from the County's contingency fund to allow work on the Courthouse to go forward. The County, with assistance from the City of Independence and State of Missouri, had already spearheaded Phase I of the renovations, which resulted in repairing the Courthouse clock and roof, as well as the installation of new windows.
BRINGING THE WALLS DOWN
Truman CourthousePhase II entails restoring the Truman Courthouse grounds to their appearance in 1933. Most importantly, the retaining walls installed around the building as part of a 1972 urban renewal program will be removed. The very first weekend after those walls were completed, the historic Courthouse suffered its first-ever leak as water seeped in the basement. These walls, Sander stressed, created a "bathtub effect," sealing water in around the building instead of letting it drain away from it.
"Over the last 35 years, with every rain or freeze, this slow water infiltration has quietly been chipping away at the very foundation and supports that keep the courthouse standing," said Sanders.
MORE PHASE II DETAILS
Harry S. Truman -- in the person of re-enactor Niel M. Johnson -- joined Sanders and Independence Mayor Don Reimal, a key partner with the County in efforts to save the Courthouse, in opening bids for Phase II of the renovations February 26. The contract was awarded to Kidwell Construction Corp. with a bid of $776,005, less than the $800,000 previously estimated for the project.
In addition to the retaining wall, concrete stairs and slabs will also be replaced, as will the limestone entry stairs on all four ends of the Courthouse. The second phase also calls for adding about 70 parking spaces around the Courthouse.
During the work, the Harry Truman statue will remain in place. As a presiding judge of Jackson County, Truman took such keen interest in the then new renovations of the Courthouse in 1933 that the building soon became know as "Truman's Courthouse." Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, the Courthouse still features Truman's original office and courtroom.