Burned courthouse in focus

The Loudon County Courthouse contains hazardous materials, like asbestos, that the county is working to remove before restoring the historic structure.

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw met last week with architects and engineers willing to tackle the initial steps to stabilize and restore the historic Loudon County Courthouse following April’s fire.

The meeting kicked off with determining the two project phases for the courthouse: stabilization and restoration.

Phase one requires identification and removal of any hazardous waste exposed to the building during and after the fire and ridding the courthouse of wet materials.

“The meeting held on Wednesday was our first meeting and was intended to be an opportunity for all currently contracted services to come together and have a preliminary roundtable in an effort to begin a channel of communication among themselves and the county,” Susan Huskey, county director of purchasing, said in an email correspondence.

The county has had guidance from an insurance company that laid out the necessary steps to ensure the company can cover repair costs. One of the first steps included a site survey.

Based on a report from Seth Frost, Frost Environmental Services asbestos inspector, he collected “a total of 27 samples of suspect asbestos containing material.” Frost observed from the collected samples that 900 square feet of 4x2 ceiling tile in the basement, 2 linear feet of 2-inch pipe insulation in the basement hall, 200 linear feet of 4-inch pipe insulation in the crawlspace and the joint compound in various areas proved to be ACM.

Before construction, ACM must be removed and placed in an approved landfill, according to Tennessee state law.

Brian Brown, county facilities director, said the asbestos situation is under control and the county is using protocol to move forward.

“Everything that has been identified in this has been abated,” Brown said. “There is the potential, of course, that (there) are some things that’s there in that facility that’s unseen. Everything that’s been stated in this report has been evaluated.”

Frost’s report notes the possibility material “may have been hidden and therefore not sampled” due to the building’s extensive fire damage.

Loudon County Facilities Maintenance in a letter to the purchasing department revealed they are willing to provide Brown with a “turnkey asbestos abatement,” which will result in the removal and disposal of the accessible asbestos pipe insulation from the two basement crawl space entrances. The group also plans to “perform the removal and disposal of the sheetrock ceiling and the sheetrock on the floor of the (third) floor rear office of the courthouse.”

Sheetrock will also be removed in the upstairs law library, upstairs elevator room and the downstairs room at the left of the main entrance.

The second major task is to remove wet materials. Fire damage left a funnel at the building’s top that allows rain water to soak the interior of the courthouse. Contractors warned moist residue could be detrimental to the structure if it is not addressed soon.

Lee Ingram, architect with Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects Inc., believes a temporary roof could be a solution to help dry the interior before reconstruction begins.

“The temporary roof, it could take quite some time to reconstruct and redesign and rebuild the old structure and cupola and everything,” Ingram said. “We’ve got to get this building dry fast. To exclude the idea of a temporary roof might — we might need to talk about that.”

Though the insurance company has advised the county to dry the building’s interior, Huskey admitted the cost could be a concern.

“We don’t want to be pennywise,” Ingram said. “You may end up having more damage occur if you leave the building open longer and longer.”

Ingram also noted it could take months for the bricks to dry.

Huskey said she was in the process of sending out the last report to the insurance company. Once reports are complete, the county will have a better idea of the costs attached to revamping the structure.

Bradshaw expressed his desire to maintain the original look.

“The court itself and the offices, we’re still going to have our standard offices and everything, still the same set-up, just the use is going to be different, so I don’t know if that affects anything as far as putting everything back the way it were,” he said. “Just the uses are going to be different. I don’t know, we’ve not really had a hard conversation of what exactly we’re going to put in, either a venue or a library’s been discussed, or a VSO office. There’s been about half a dozen discussions, all of them different ideas. Even though the use will be different, the layout will be the same.”

Bradshaw feels recreating the classic courthouse look is something the community deserves.

“I think from a community standpoint, that’s what the community’s after — especially the front of the building,” he said. “As long as they can have weddings and get prom pictures and stuff made right there at the front, that’s the big one. As far as the interior goes, I guarantee you, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people have never been inside that building. Most, especially this generation coming up and a lot of my generation as well, they couldn’t tell you what it was like beforehand unless they had court in there. I think putting it back the way it was — I think that’s what insurance was talking about, too, they want it back to how it was. They didn’t want anything above and beyond.”

A timeline for starting the stabilization process has not been established, but a public hearing is expected once plans are in place.