By BRIAN GRAVES
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said there is a silver lining in the cloud of smoke and soot which has caused the Bradley County Courthouse to cease operations on-site and have its services farmed …
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said there is a silver lining in the cloud of smoke and soot which has caused the Bradley County Courthouse to cease operations on-site and have its services farmed out to three different locations.
Davis spoke to the Cleveland Lions Club on Wednesday about the Sept. 30 fire and its remnants, which the mayor said has caused a “huge” cleaning bill.
Before his remarks, Davis told the Cleveland Daily Banner the final cost is still yet to be determined because some of what is now being done was already planned as part of the courthouse renovation.
“A lot of work has been going on at the courthouse,” Davis said.
“The HVAC system was running at the time of the fire, and it took the smoke and soot throughout the building,” he said. “Every single inch of the building is covered in that black soot.”
He noted electrical fires put the soot on everything “and every piece of paper in there.”
“Everybody makes fun of the courthouse, but it’s a well-built, concrete box,” Davis said. “The fire was maintained in that one room, but it smoldered for a long time. It destroyed all of the electrical in that room. It destroyed all of the computer lines. Even though the fire did not go to all of the other rooms in the building, it got the guts of the courthouse when it comes to internet and electrical. Part of the heating and air unit was in there as well, so it shut that down.”
He said ServPro has been working almost around the clock since the fire, trying to get things cleaned up.
Davis said on the Tuesday before the fire, he had just signed the contract with Energy Systems Group to replace the HVAC system, lights and windows, and remodel the restrooms.
“For many, many years, that has been a goal of mine because it’s a very old building,” he said. “The HVAC that we are finally replacing was put in there when the courthouse was built, and it was built around that system. That’s how big they are.”
He said fixing the courthouse has never been "politically correct," at least budget-wise, but after getting the new workhouse and the new Lake Forest school off the ground, the courthouse came back to being a priority.
“The commission had just approved this project which was many, many years in coming and we justified it with most of it to be paid for with energy savings,” Davis said.
He noted that while the plans were to replace the HVAC, the new systems had yet to be ordered.
“It takes six to eight weeks to build, and another six to eight weeks to install, so you are three to four months out right off the bat,” the mayor said.
The focus then shifted to relocating the courthouse offices, which Davis says “went pretty good.”
“We were one day extra than we had to be, because there was one place in Cleveland which fit the description of what we needed [to put all of the offices in a central location]. We couldn’t get the OK from the top guy we needed, so on that Wednesday we pulled the plug and went with the three-location situation.”
That meant having to get utilities, telephone and internet up and running at all three locations.
“The move went well, but we had to have all of those things before we could serve the citizens,” Davis said.
He reiterated Register of Deeds Dina Swafford and Veterans Services are located across the street from the courthouse, at the corner of 2nd and Broad streets “thanks to Broad Street United Methodist.”
“We appreciated it and the price was wonderful — no cost,” Davis said. “They were actually open on Friday and were down only four working days.”
County Trustee Mike Smith is located at 17th and Keith streets in the former SouthEast bank building.
“He is up and running as of Tuesday,” Davis said. “They were only down six working days.”
County Clerk Donna Simpson moved to the former FSG Bank branch at the Village Green.
“She was up and running on Monday, which was only five working days,” Davis said.
“I think that’s pretty good to be up so soon,” he said.
He also noted Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller and her staff had courts running the Monday after the fire, with assistance from the city of Cleveland who offered space for some of the courts to be held.
“Thank goodness probation had just moved to their new offices at the workhouse,” Davis added. “That would have affected a lot of people.”
He also lauded the help of the Church of God and Lee University, which opened their warehouse to provide furnishings for the new locations.
“Lee University had better furniture in their warehouse than what we were using,” Davis said. “They were wonderful to work with.”
He said while the desire was to be in one location, “we wanted to get set up as fast as we could.”
Davis joked that some of the departments might prefer to stay in their new locations.
“That’s the next thing I have to deal with, probably,” he said with a grin.
Davis said he had hoped the alternative single-location opportunity would have been made available with the hopes that move could be permanent.
Davis said the ceilings in the courthouse have now been taken out and the carpet removed.
“We were told it wouldn’t cost any more to replace the carpet than to clean it,” he said.
“The good thing about it is we were going to have to work around the courts and offices during the planned renovation,” Davis said. “They can now do their work in a much better environment and, hopefully, a little quicker.”
He said all of the officials worked well together throughout the ordeal.
“The one concern was how quickly they could be ready to serve the citizens,” Davis said.
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