I would like to comment on the proposed adaptive reuse of the former Litchfield County Courthouse as a hotel and restaurant. To those opposed, there are two simple alternatives: let the building continue to deteriorate inside and out or find a productive use for the structure that not only preserves it architecturally, but also puts in on the tax rolls.
The building has sat empty and unused since October of 2017 because the state Judicial Department was never required to bring the building up to current building and fire codes. Not one stairway inside or out meets today’s codes, including the 1979 handicap ramp. Also, in the event of a fire, the only exit from the rear of the building is in the basement adjacent to the 92-year old furnace. There will always be those who continue to suggest alternative uses, though seemingly without a realistic understanding of the economic viability of those uses.
The proposed rear addition of an elevator/stairwell, is a necessary code requirement no matter the use. The building at 29 West Street also has an elevator/stairwell structure in the rear that was added in the 1990’s for the same reason.
It is understandable some in town may find the design of the addition too modern and distinct from the original 1888 structure and the architecturally incongruous 1930 addition to the courthouse. True to historic preservation standards and per the Secretary of Interior standards, the addition is designed to be recognizable as just that; an addition. Mimicking an architectural style from the past for an element that never would have existed takes away from the recognition of the architectural significance of the original building.
Not only have the exterior modifications been extensively scrutinized by the Litchfield Historic District Commission, but also the State Preservation Office and the National Park Service, all of which had input in the design and were required to sign off on the addition. Receiving approval from the State Preservation Office and the National Park Service was vital to obtain the necessary tax credits to make the building economically viable. With this proposed reuse as a boutique hotel, the 1888 courthouse exterior will continue to stand alone untouched, while preserving the building’s unique interior architecture.
Paul R. Hinkel, AIA, Litchfield