Fire damages courthouse

Officials to discuss contingency plans

By BRIAN GRAVES Staff Writer
Posted 9/30/17

A Saturday morning fire has placed into question when the Bradley County Courthouse will be able to resume normal operations.

The one thing for certain is the county seat’s headquarters will …

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Fire damages courthouse

Officials to discuss contingency plans

Posted

A Saturday morning fire has placed into question when the Bradley County Courthouse will be able to resume normal operations.

The one thing for certain is the county seat’s headquarters will be closed Monday, and the potential is now that may extend to several days.

Cleveland Fire Marshall Benny Atchley said the fire was contained to a mechanical room located just outside and to the left of the Commission meeting room.

“It was a pretty good fire,” Atchley said, adding the blaze was successfully contained to the one room.

The call went out around 9 a.m. Saturday after smoke was seen coming from the courthouse.

“One of the city firemen said they saw it — smoke coming out of the roof,” said Commission Chairman Louie Alford.

There were other reports of some hearing a “boom” around the time of the fire.

There was no structural damage reported to the 50-plus year old courthouse which has no sprinkler system.

All damage appears to be caused by smoke and water, with the water coming from firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze.

The upper floor, which contains the offices of the county court clerk, the clerk and master, and a courtroom, suffered mainly from smoke damage where the output of the blaze entered the courthouse duct work.

It was around noon when officials and electrical contractors were finally able to enter the building after waiting for the smoke to clear.

“I have been told there was a big boom in the downtown area which shut down power in the area,” said County Mayor D. Gary Davis. “There are some assumptions a transformer blew, but I really don’t know for sure. Shortly after that is when the fire was noticed.”

Davis said within the courthouse a breaker panel caught on fire, probably from a power surge.

“It sent black smoke throughout the building. There was smoke everywhere.”

Davis said the first priority was to find out how long the building may be without power.

“I think the main damage was just to that room, but that’s the room that supplies power to the entire building,” the mayor said. “Until we know that, we will probably be out of the building for a period of time.”

Another complication will be to determine what damage may have been done to computer software and internet access — both vital to the services all of the county departments offer.

The mayor said he was hoping telephone and internet services would be on site quickly to make damage assessments.

Firefighters were able to leave the scene around 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

The County Commission has already moved the location of its Monday night voting session to the Bradley Central High School Library.

That meeting begins at 7 p.m.

Ironically, renovations were scheduled to begin on the courthouse within the next two weeks.

“I have a meeting with the company next week to decide what goes first and how the timeline will be,” Davis said.

He emphasized the offices have no fire damage and “not much water.”

“There is going to be a lot of cleanup involved, so if the electrician is able to get us back up and running, we’ll be OK there.”

“As far as business on Monday, probably not, but we have to wait on getting the opinion from the electricians,” Davis said. “If the report says it will take days or weeks, we’ll have to decide according to that.”

He said there will be a meeting this afternoon with all of the elected department heads to make a plan foward.

Davis also said the Energy Service Group project, which would replace the courthouse’s HVAC system, may be accelerated because of its proximity to the fire and the necessity of either cleaning or replacing the duct work.

Bradley County Court Clerk Gayla Miller said the uncertainty goes as well for her upstairs office and the courts.

The upper floor of the courthouse houses the office that handles General Sessions and Civil Courts.

“My satellite office at the jail is all criminal and the one at Johnston Boulevard is all juvenile,” Miller said.

“I will be here at the courthouse Monday to direct anyone who may have business scheduled with my office,” she said. “We normally have court on Monday. We may have to use one of the courtrooms at the jail. I’m not sure because they have criminal court, too.”

“It’s going to be a minute-to-minute Monday morning to see how things go,” Miller said. “They have told me the smoke was pretty heavy in my Circuit office.”

County Clerk Donna Simpson said her department was also waiting to see what will happen.

“We will do our best to be back up and running as soon as possible,” Simpson said.

County Trustee Mike Smith was also uncertain about Monday business.

“The trustee’s office will be up and running somewhere Monday, we just don’t know where,” Smith said. “My staff is already working on contingency plans. We are already on the phone with our software providers and our internet service.”

Commissioner  Bobby Goins said as bad as the situation was, it could have been worse.

“I am just thankful it happened when no one was here,” Goins said.

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