Friday, February 01, 2002


83-year-old in beauty contest

        John Dowlin was on the line.

        Sounding chipper, the Hamilton County commissioner phoned to say he read my Wednesday column about the shabby exterior of City Hall.

        Always nice to hear from a reader. Especially one bearing news.

        The commissioner proudly crowed that the Hamilton County Courthouse had just won a prestigious award.

        The Washington, D.C.-based Building Owners and Managers Association named the 83-year-old courthouse the best government building in a region encompassed by the Tristate, Michigan and Illinois.

        Next stop: the association's international competition in June.

        Talk about bragging rights. This award gives commissioners something to lord over their crosstown rivals at City Hall.

        Turns out the regional award, called the TOBY (The Office Building of the Year), came about because of a bunch of hard-working county employees, including Sharon Chamberlin and David Espelage.

Entered with pride

        Sharon is in charge of making sure the county's 22 buildings look good. Her office is in the basement of the courthouse. The once grimy, rundown and darkly forbidding place is now clean, well-lighted and welcoming.

        She entered the courthouse in the TOBY competition because she's proud of the way her employees “preserve the assets of the county.”

        Inspectors from the association checked out the building's assets. The gleaming metal and stone surfaces in the restored lobby. The renovated courtrooms. The basement. The roof. The grounds. Even the plants.

        Besides the inspection, Sharon provided enough supporting documents — charts, floor plans, employee training procedures and photos — to fill a 3-inch-thick binder.

        Sharon can fill out forms. Work hard. And fire up her staff's pride.

        But people like David Espelage replace light bulbs and mop floors.

Honored employee

        For 25 years, David has worked as a courthouse custodian. Mornings at 7:30 a.m., he's outside cleaning the grounds. He fishes bottles and cans from the bushes. Cigarette butts from the sidewalk.

        Wednesday, he went from litter patrol to the commissioners' meeting. He received his 25-year pin, becoming the first recipient of a new county program honoring longtime employees.

        David tucked the box with the gold-colored lapel pin into his pocket. And went back to work. At the courthouse.

        “This building's my second home,” the Springfield Township man said. “I love to work here.”

        When he started at the courthouse, “the place was a mess.”

        “Prisoners in the jail on the top floor would stuff sheets into the toilets. They overflowed into the courtrooms below. There was so much dirt on the lights in the lobby, no one knew they were brass.”

        Six years ago, after Sharon came to work for the county, David noticed a change in attitude.

        “People started to be proud of this place,” he said.

        That was fine by him.

        “I don't like to live in slop,” he said. His second home must be spotless.

        “It's the best,” he said.

        Now, the courthouse has an award to prove it. Dedicated employees like Sharon and David will keep it that way.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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