Local News

Chatham commissioners vote to rebuild courthouse

Posted March 31, 2010 10:35 a.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2010 6:39 p.m. EDT

— The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to rebuild its historic courthouse that was damaged in an accidental fire last week.

Crews were also working to reopen part of the traffic circle around the courthouse, but it was unclear when it would be ready for drivers.

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Fire Marshal Thomas Bender told commissioners that a worker was using a soldering torch on the southwest corner of the building when the torch fell, hit some wood and started the fire.

No charges are expected.

All four walls of the courthouse, which was built in 1881, appear to be fairly stable, officials said. The foundation also looks stable, but it must be dried out to remove the water.

“The wind and the old heart pine timbers provided highly flammable fuel which contributed significantly to the intensity of the fire in the building,” Bender said.

Workers with a roofing subcontractor tried to extinguish the fire but were unsuccessful, said Todd Snyder, vice president of Progressive Contracting Co., which had been restoring the building. He declined to name the subcontractor.

The State Bureau of Investigation will release an official report within the next few weeks, Bender said.

The county already had plans to start building a new justice center in a few months.

Insurance companies are conducting multiple investigations on the fire, which has stalled the cleanup process.

Meanwhile, weekly sessions of Superior Court in Chatham County will continue to be 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.