By MARINA WATERS
Renovations to the Washington County Courthouse may be coming — but the pigeons may be leaving.
For years pigeons have flocked to the top of the county courthouse on Main Street in Downtown Jonesborough. But now, should the Washington County Commission elect to move forward with phase one of the renovation project, changes will be coming for the birds and for the building in which the county conducts much of its business.
The first phase of the project will cost $1.1 million of the $2.2 million budgeted for the interior and exterior improvements and will include a new roof and gutters, a handicap ramp on the east side of the building, new doors on both sides of the building and new paint and other repairs to the exterior of the building.
“These are long overdue improvements,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said at the county’s Wednesday, Aug. 15 budget meeting where phase one of the project was approved. “We started on this five or six years ago. It’s a very expensive project and that’s been part of the delay, trying to figure our how to get this thing to a reasonable number we feel like we can afford and yet get the work done that has to be done — improving the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, improving the security, doing the roof, the painting. These things have to be done.”
In addition to making minimal changes to the exterior of the building, the committee, after a lengthy discussion, agreed to continue to make sure their feathered friends perched on top of the clocktower fly the coop once and for all.
Washington County Purchasing Director Willie Shrewsbury said the courthouse used to have spikes placed under the columns on the building, but that over time those spikes have worn down, making it easy for birds to roost on the building. He also said one of the last organizations the county used to address the pigeon issue carried off 100 55-gallon drums of bird droppings from the courthouse site. He said at that time, the droppings were a foot deep.
Eldridge added that the pigeon problem has decreased over the years, partially due to a noise deterrent placed on the first level of the clock tower. Shrewsbury said the noise-maker sets off multiple predator bird signals to scare off the birds looking to make a home of the courthouse.
“We found one solution (to the bird problem) and it’s the noise deterrent,” Eldridge said. “It’s a machine. It works really, really well. But it is a constant source of complaints from the neighbors.”
Because the community has had complaints about the noise, county officials said they have shut off the deterrent for events such as the weekly farmer’s market and during nighttime hours to cut down on any disturbances.
“People have complained about everything we’ve done,” Eldridge said. “We’ve had TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) out here to address it and we had lots of complaints about that. Everything that we have done about the pigeons, the community complains — just like we have the complaints about the pigeons.”
County officials aren’t just focused on pigeons; Eldridge said one of the main differences that could be coming to the Jonesborough courthouse is a focus on security.
Eldridge said that currently the building has 13 exterior doors and that a recent study conducted at the building suggested the county reduce the number of unlocked access to the building. Eldridge also said the county commission could also look at adding a sheriff’s office deputy back into the courthouse for security monitoring as they had in year’s past.
“One deputy can’t monitor 13 doors,” Eldridge said. “So what we’re doing here would allow one security officer to monitor both access points into the building. We’re just trying to get to the point to where we can make the improvements and be able to ensure some degree of security because with that many openings in this building, there is just no way to secure it.”
With less doors, Eldridge said it’s possible that the election commission might need to consider using another location for voting.
“Changing the security on this building is going to have everyone coming in on the main level, which is going to be a challenge for them if they’re going downstairs, early voting or precinct,” Eldridge said. “They need to look for another place to vote, I think particularly after the issues we had between the election commission and mayor elect Grandy. We need to be looking for another place to vote given that.
“The courthouse is the place the county does business and where county officials do business. The election commission, quite frankly, trying to influence the outcome of an election, that can’t be tolerated. So we need to move them out of this building.”