Courthouse clock repair uncertain

2014-05-06T00:00:00Z 2014-05-07T00:42:16Z Courthouse clock repair uncertainBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Twice a day, at 11:30, the large clock on the west side the Yellowstone County courthouse is correct.

For the rest of the day, time stands still.

The mechanism that drives the timepiece works but has been disconnected ever since the plate-glass face blew off in high winds in February 2012.

Greg Erpenbach, the county’s facilities superintendent, said Monday he can’t find anyone to replace the glass.

In the meantime, Erpenbach disconnected the exposed hands from the mechanism to keep them from getting frozen by the weather.

Finding a contractor to replace the 8-foot by 8-foot pane of glass and rebuild the frame has been a challenge.

The county, Erpenbach said, sent a letter to a building exchange to see if any contractors were interested in replacing the glass. “We had no response at all,” he said.

Erpenbach also said he had been talking with a company’s employee about possibly installing four 4-foot by 4-foot panels instead of one solid piece of glass. But that person has left the company, he said.

“I don’t know what happened with him. I’ve got one other company we’re going to try talking with,” he said.

Liability is the main concern, Erpenbach said.

From the sidewalk, the clocks located about 100 feet up on the courthouse’s eighth floor don’t appear that big.

From inside the triangular-shaped clock room in the northwest corner of the building, the clocks are huge.

Wrestling a large, single pane of glass into place would require using a crane on North 27th Street and a platform on the outside of the building, Erpenbach said. He estimated the glass’ thickness would be a quarter inch.

If the county used smaller panels instead of a single pane, the glass probably could be installed from the inside of the courthouse, but an exterior platform would still be needed, he said.

The task also would be pricey. “I’m hoping less than $20,000,” Erpenbach said. Glass and cranes are expensive, he said.

The clocks have two pieces of glass, a exterior pane and an interior behind the hands.

On Feb. 25, 2012, the west side clock’s exterior pane gave way at about 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. No one was hurt, he said.

The glass fell out in one piece, hit and broke a window in the county’s human resources office on the second floor, and shattered on the sidewalk. The clock’s numbers, which are rectangles affixed to the glass, fell with the panel.

Erpenbach speculated that years of wind and weather wore down the frame and ultimately caused the panel to fall. The west side of the courthouse gets a lot of wind, he said.

Erpenbach has considered using plexiglass but said it is more flexible than glass and may not withstand the winds.

More than 21 years ago, before Erpenbach started working for the county, the interior glass on the west side clock was replaced with three panes. The north side clock has single interior and exterior panes.

The north side clock works but wasn’t on the correct time, likely because of a power failure, he said.

“It’s just gotten off,” said Erpenbach, using a hex key to loosen the mechanism and re-set the hands.

Erpenbach said he used to get questions about the clocks when the bus transfers were on the street corner because people used the clocks to catch the bus. Since the bus transfer site moved a few years ago, he hasn’t received many clock questions, he said.

The county, he said, has talked over the years about whether to keep or ditch the clocks but no decision has been made.

In the meantime, Erpenbach said he’s working on fixing the clock. “It’s always in the back of my mind,” he said.

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