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Officials remove debris from Chatham County courthouse

Chatham County probation officials said only 20 of their 250 files were destroyed during Thursday's fire at the county's historic courthouse.

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PITTSBORO, N.C. — Chatham County officials continued Monday to carefully removed debris and items from the county's historic courthouse damaged in a fire Thursday.

“We have ensured that contractors are sorting out historically significant items that we could reuse or that might have other significance,” said Sally Kost, chair of Board of County Commissioners. “We will take those items to secured storage areas for future evaluation and safe keeping.”

On Thursday evening, a fire ravaged the courthouse at 12 East St. in Pittsboro. The courthouse's clock tower fell and the upper floor collapsed, but fire officials said the debris might have protected documents and artifacts on the lower floors.

"Fortunately, all of the court records are kept in the vault in the clerk's office, so the court records are almost 100 percent intact,” former Superior Court Judge Wade Barber said.

Chief Probation Officer Scott Brewer said 20 of the department's 250 files were damaged in the fire. The files will be rebuilt from information safely stored on their computer system, which wasn't damaged.

"Parts of the ceiling were hanging down, especially in the district attorney's office. A lot of the second floor had caved-in in their office," Brewer said.

In addition to the probation office, the building housed the district attorney’s office and the Chatham Historical Museum.

Crews on Sunday took everything out of the museum. Water damage was found on some items, but no fire damage.

"We can deal with damage. Destruction, you can't bring it back,” said Kenneth Crabtree, a board member with the Chatham County Historical Association.

Numerous books and county records looked almost untouched on Monday.

"Because they were in cabinets in closed doors, they were protected," said Walter Harris, a board member with the Chatham County Historical Association.

Contractors were renovating part of the courthouse, but investigators have yet to determine a cause for the fire.

Structural engineers have not been able to enter the east part of the building to evaluate its condition, County Manager Charlie Horne said

Several architectural elements on the west side of the first floor and some parts of the Superior Courtroom are intact, officials said.

Court officials have been meeting twice a day to discuss scheduling issues.

Weekly sessions of Superior Court in Chatham County will continue to be held for criminal and civil proceedings at the District Court building across the street, Judge Allen Baddour said Monday. These will include sessions to hear motions and pleas for cases.

“However, it is too early to know when Superior Court can resume jury trials. We are hard at work with the Administrative Office of the Courts and Chatham County officials to resume these as soon as possible,” Baddour said.

County officials haven't decided what to do with the courthouse, which was built in 1881. Chatham County already had plans to start building a new justice center in a few months.

The Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting on Wednesday to receive an update on the courthouse.


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