Local News

Panel recommends courtroom in rebuilt Chatham courthouse

Posted September 7, 2010 3:06 p.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2010 3:50 p.m. EDT

— A Chatham County task force told county commissioners Tuesday that a courtroom should be retained when the county rebuilds its landmark courthouse.

A March 25 fire gutted the building, which was built in 1881, and caused its iconic clock tower to collapse. Authorities determined the fire was accidentally started by workers involved in an exterior renovation and that the blaze quickly spread in the building's attic.

The Board of Commissioners appointed a 21-member task force to gather public input and determine how to use the courthouse when it is rebuilt. The group held a public meeting, and about 530 residents were surveyed, officials said.

In addition to a second-floor courtroom, the panel recommended continuing to house the Chatham Historical Association on the the first floor, along with museum space, a possible visitors' center, meeting space and art displays.

The courtroom should look as much as possible like the old courtroom, the task force said, but should feature updated lighting and sound systems and handicapped accessibility. The task force said it also should be available for public meetings, historical programs and cultural events.

The county needs to develop policies on public use of the courtroom and other spaces in the building, the group said.

“While we have a lot of information to review, we expect to take action on this fairly soon because we need to move forward with the rebuilding process," Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Sally Kost said in a statement.

On Sept. 13-14, the south half of the traffic circle around the courthouse, which sits at the intersection of U.S. Highway 64 and U.S. Highway 15/501, will be closed so crews can place a temporary roof on the building.

The Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on Sept. 20 to consider the task force's recommendations.

The county this fall will break ground on a new Judicial Center, which will house all local courts once it opens.