Landmark shines a light on area's future

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:53

    From reports by Kirsten Roth and Diane Fitzpatrick NEWTON-Last week Sussex County took a trip back in time and a step toward its future when it rededicated the historic courthouse. A refurbished, exact duplicate of the 1847 Sussex County Courthouse was lit up Monday, Dec. 6, when some 30 residents and officials gathered to celebrate the completion of the renovation of the landmark's exterior. The event included the placement of a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. However, for Newton, the rededication is more than just skin-deep. For the county seat, the new old courthouse is a central element of its plans for the future of the business district. "The courthouse is an icon for Sussex County and an anchor of revitalization of the entire Newton area," said Joseph Biuso, the facilities manager for Sussex County. According to Biuso, the last decade has seen significant improvements in the area and he believes the momentum created by the courthouse renovations will attract new business and spur even more developments and improvements in the area. Biuso is not the only one betting that the 157 year-old landmark is a beacon shinning on Newton's future. "It's a beautiful old building. This is what people think when, when they think of Newton: The courthouse and the square," said Colin Donnelly, Newton's Town Manager. According to Donnelly, the renovated courthouse is already having an impact on the future plans of the town. A senior citizen building planned for the corner of Water and Trinity streets will "take into consideration the architectural value we have in Newton." Donnelly believes the central business district of town will benefit from the people a functional courthouse will bring to the area. To that effect, the town manager explained, the local government is already taking steps to facilitate and encourage further business development of the area. In addition, he said, the council is preparing to work with planners to upgrade the town's master plan with some emphasis placed on the business district. The task of refurbishing the courthouse to its 1847 look was not an easy or a quick task. This renovation, the sixth in its history by some counts, is one of the most extensive the building has ever undergone and perhaps one of the most complex and demanding. The project aims to respect the historical value of one the remaining colonial courthouses in the state, at the same time that introduces modern conveniences and required safety and security features. The re-dedication marks the mid-way point to a complete renovation and fully functioning courthouse. The exterior work completed at a cost of $1.1 million includes improvements to the cupola and the installation of a new roof. To be more historically accurate, the "modern" shingle roof was removed and replaced with a metal roof system reminiscing of the type and style used during that period. During this phase, the masonry was inspected and repaired and the old plaster was stripped and replaced with three layers of new plaster. While the plaster was still soft it was scored by an artisan, creating grooves replicating a limestone finish. Utilizing plaster to cover the stonework proved a little controversial. During two previous renovations, in the early '80s and another in the early '90s, there were discussions to remove the white exterior plaster and leave exposed the stonework front. However, the desired for historical accuracy demanded the landmark be kept white. Historical records show the stonework has been covered with plaster most likely since the building was rebuilt after the first major fire in 1847. Some believe that keeping the building historically accurate means keeping it white. "It was nice to see everybody show up and appreciate the efforts we have made," said Biuso, explaining that the exterior's renovation is only part of the courthouse's path to refurbishment. The courthouse is currently undergoing asbestos removal and is completely sealed off to the public. Officials expect that the $2.1 million job of remodeling and upgrading the inside of the historical site will go out to bids in the first quarter of 2005.