On the still taped off third floor of the Missoula County Courthouse, local painter Amanda Bielby has spent the past three months working to preserve and restore the artwork of the largest of the building's courtrooms.
The courthouse renovation project, which began in 2012, is slated to be completed this summer.
Bielby’s work in the historic courtroom included repainting the murals that adorn the columns and ceiling struts at the front of the room.
“They brought me and and showed me one piece at a time and said ‘Can you fix this?’ And I said yes, I can do that,” Bielby said.
She also made custom-molded plaster bases to fit onto the bottom of the shaft of the columns, then hand painted them to make them match the oak pedestals and other wood accents throughout the courtroom.
“It takes multiple layers of color, about five or six, to get that faux oak coloring,” Bielby said.
She conducted similar work in the courthouse rotunda just outside the courtroom door, repainting the plaster columns to look like they are made of granite.
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As part of the renovation a new courtroom, including attached jury room and holding cell, also was completed across the hall from the third floor historic courtroom, in a space that previously had been used for court hearings.
Paul Filicetti from A&E Architects designed the overall courthouse renovation project, which totals some $14 million, with the intent of keeping the historic aspects of the building intact, said Anne Hughes, communications and projects director for the county.
“It’s even the small details like the door handles. We got an exception to the ADA because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places so we could keep using these,” she said.
Missoula County District Court judges John Larson and Karen Townsend, as well as their staff, will move into newly-completed offices adjacent to the third floor courtrooms later this month.
“For the first time in three years, everyone will be where they are supposed to be,” Hughes said.
The renovation plans also include enough office space to accommodate a fifth judge if the Montana Legislature decides to expand the number on the bench in Missoula.
Hughes said the last part of the renovation of the building is to finish renovating the main entryway to the courthouse. After that, the Edgar Paxson paintings will be put back up on the walls sometime during the summer, and the project will wrap up with improvements to the courthouse grounds.