Local News

Public gives input on Chatham courthouse rebuilding effort

Posted September 20, 2010 6:09 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2010 4:43 p.m. EDT

— Six months after flames nearly destroyed the historic Chatham County Courthouse, commissioners held another public hearing to get residents’ input on the rebuilding process.

At Monday night’s public hearing at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, the public gave input on recommendations made by the board’s 21-member task force.

"I saw Pittsboro, alive, (with) activity and burgeoning,” resident Beth Kricker said at the hearing of her vision for the courthouse.

The task force had input from more than 500 residents to put together the recommendations on how to rebuild.

"There was one over-riding consensus in the county, and that was to put the courthouse back to the way it looked before,” task force member Susan Little said.

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 task force told commissioners that a courtroom should be retained when the county rebuilds its landmark courthouse.

In addition to a second-floor courtroom, the panel recommended continuing to house the Chatham Historical Association on 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.

Some residents also like the task force recommendation of making the courthouse available for public meetings, historical programs and cultural events.

"Have the courthouse serve the people of Chatham County,” resident Beth Kricker said.

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

Doris Betts said she wants to see a restoration, but thinks the courtroom should mainly serve its intended purpose.

"To reduce it now to some multi-purpose would strike at the very heart of Chatham County,” Betts said at the hearing.

The renovation to the courthouse should be paid mostly by the insurance policy the county had on the building. Next month, commissioners will firm up plans on what the renovation will look like and a timetable.

"What our hope is that this fire of 2010 will be part of the history of the courthouse and not the end of it,” Commissioner George Lucier said.

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