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Published: Wednesday, 12/5/2001

Monroe County says it's time for repairs to clock tower

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Maintenance supervisor George Jondro must make sure the courthouse clock is running smoothly. Maintenance supervisor George Jondro must make sure the courthouse clock is running smoothly.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

MONROE - From a perch high above downtown, with a spectacular view that pigeons and sharpshooters alike have shared, Mike Bosanac stared at a small single-pane window in the clock tower of the Monroe County Courthouse.

“There,” he said, pointing to a small white stain below the window frame, “you can see where the water is starting to come in. That's the kind of thing we're looking for. If we don't stay on top of it, it can get out of control pretty quickly.”

Mr. Bosanac, the county's purchasing director, was explaining the county commissioners' decision last month to spend about $70,000 next year to repair parts of the 120-year-old clock tower, the architectural focal point of the Monroe County Courthouse.

The work will be minor - mostly replacing a few missing slate shingles, caulking holes, and applying a coat of paint - but without it, Mr. Bosanac said, the local center of government could fall quickly into disrepair.

It is a constant struggle to maintain a building like Monroe County's historic courthouse, a patchwork of four buildings tied together through the years to make room for local government.

Much of that work falls on George Jondro, maintenance superintendent at the courthouse, and the man whose responsibility it is to climb into the county's attic to make sure everything is still running as smoothly as it was in 1880.

“There's not a lot of leaks for the age of the courthouse, but it takes lots of yearly maintenance,” Mr. Jondro said while standing next to the four-foot tall bell that marks the passing of each hour in Monroe.

Hidden away above the public portion of the courthouse are the signs that show the building's true strength and the craftsmanship that went into its construction.

Enormous hand-sawn oaken timbers make up the skeleton of the oldest portions of the courthouse. The timbers are darkened somewhat by advancing age and spotted with an occasional soot smear, evidence of an arsonist's fire in 1992 that did $900,000 damage to the building. But the timbers show no signs of having to be replaced, Mr. Jondro said.

A floor below the huge bell in a small oaken shack stands the original works that continue to run the building's four huge clocks. Although their faces measure more than four feet in diameter, the four clocks each keep accurate time courtesy of one small electric motor that is no bigger than a man's fist. It is an intricate and delicate piece of machinery that requires the utmost care, Mr. Jondro said.

“It takes two of us to set [the proper time], one guy with a radio and me up here because I can't see the hands from inside the building,” the maintenance superintendent said.

While access to the upper floors of the courthouse clock tower is usually restricted to just a few, several people were there during former President Clinton's August visit. No less than three sharpshooters were stationed at the very top of the clock tower as the president addressed thousands of people below in Loranger Square.

The tower was used to house the special communications equipment used by the Mr. Clinton and his security entourage.

For Mr. Bosanac, the maintenance work on the roofs and windows of the clock tower are just part of a day's work.

“We're in charge of maintaining over 500,000 square feet of public property, so you have to stay on top of things,” Mr. Bosanac said.



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