MOULTRIE -- Planned repairs on the county courthouse shouldn't stop Christmas from coming to downtown Moultrie.

Moultrie's trademark canopy of lights drape in all directions from the county courthouse cupola. It's a magical centerpiece of the season that brings thousands of people to downtown Moultrie at the annual lighting festival traditionally held on Thanksgiving evening.

County officials met with renovation specialists Tim O'Neil Enterprises of St. Augustine Thursday to discuss repairing the courthouse's clock tower and cupola. The contractors renovated those portions of the courthouse six years ago, Colquitt County Administrator Billy Mock said, and are very familiar with the historic structure.

In fact, they donated the gold finial at the top of the cupola, he said.

County officials have put the project out to bid but haven't found a contractor willing to take on liability accept for O'Neil, he said. That outfit is bonded and insured and specializes in renovations of churches, courthouses and historical buildings.

"It's appropriate most of the time to bid it. We've asked for people to tell us prices. We've got little or no response," Mock said. "This may be one of those situations where the best deal is a negotiated maintenance contract so that they can go in there and fix it."

Plus, the work is precarious.

"They may be some of the few people who've got the safety devices because of the work they do all the time," he said. "You've got to have somebody that knows what they're doing. You can't have a general carpenter and send them up to do that. That's a long way up there."

Mock is leaning toward replacing the wood with AZEK, cellular pvc used to make trim, balusters, railing and other construction applications. It's more costly than wood, but the manufacturer warranties their product for 25 years.

"I think we would be making a foolish mistake if we put wood back up there. In the long run, I think it'll (AZEK) be way ahead of the game for us," the administrator said.

The heavy cables of the light canopy attach to a steel cable ring affixed to the underside of the cupola's roof, said City of Moultrie Utilities Director Roger King.

"Because of that, there's an equal balance pulling on it from all directions -- kind of like pulling on a hula hoop, so there's not a lot of (tension) against the cupola itself. Whatever they put up there, we'll work around it. We will not let Christmas go away," King said.

O'Neil Enterprises climbed up into the cupola with a videocamera and found that only some parts need to be replaced and waterproofed, but the main structure is sound, Mock said.

Re-painting the century-old courthouse will have to wait until a later, he said.

City crews will start stringing the Christmas lights three weeks before Thanksgiving, King said.

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