Weeks after the old Loudon County Courthouse burned, local officials are still looking to pick up the pieces and move toward the future.
The April 23 fire gutted the second floor, but caused water and smoke damage on the first floor.
“Looking at the inside is still heartbreaking to say the least,” Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, county mayor, said. “For this to have happened, the timing on it you never want to see it happen period, but the timing on it with budget time I think it’s going to allow us to act pretty quick I hope as far as the refurbishing. But, yeah, it’s definitely heartbreaking to be able to step inside and just see everything that’s been destroyed through the fire.”
He expects a structural engineer to give a report on the building “any day.”
Officials have been working to come up with a plan of action, including the possibility of building new on other property — such as land owned by Loudon adjacent to the Loudon Police and Fire departments — while working to restore the old courthouse for a separate purpose, Bradshaw said.
Construction on the city property would require a decision by Loudon City Council, Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris said.
“We haven’t had that discussion yet,” Harris said. “... We do have some property down there, like 5 acres down there, 6 acres or whatever, but that would certainly be a discussion we would have with council that I think would be a welcome discussion. I don’t think there would be much hindrance or disagreement on it, but I can’t say they could or couldn’t because right now it will be a council decision.”
Plans are to continue supporting the county, Harris said.
Court operations recently resumed in the old Loudon municipal building on Alma Place. Loudon County Commission and the city are working on an agreement that would allow court proceedings to continue in the old building for two years if needed. Commissioners considered the agreement earlier this month, but tabled the decision for further discussion in June.
“We’re going to continue with that process and that arrangement we’ve started with them, and going forward we’re going to continue with that, working together and trying to do whatever we can to accommodate,” Harris said.
Bradshaw considers the timing of the fire a “small victory” since the county is in the thick of budget season that should help determine revenue for a new annex and recovery of the old building.
“We’re on go, I mean it’s on the march. This is underway,” Van Shaver, county commissioner, said. “We’ve got a lot of steps to go through — architectural drawings, letting the judges and the court clerk officers, Lisa Niles, Steve Harrelson that were in the old courtroom, let them get with the architects after we get the square design made and they can decide how their floors will look to suit their needs.
“Right now as far as I know we’re on board with a similar annex-type building, a two-floor, annex-type building — courts on one level, offices on the other level,” he added.
Loudon County Economic Development Agency has covered costs for preliminary, rough designs from Michael Brady Inc., on what could eventually be the new annex, Bradshaw said. Hopes are to aim for a project costing $6.5 million-$8 million, but it’s still early.
“Hopefully by the time workshop’s here they’re going to have some conceptual drawings up and we’ll be able to get a good look at those and starting decide what we want it to look like,” Bradshaw said.
If Bradshaw has his way, plans will be to have two projects at the same time, especially with how much the courthouse means to Loudon and the county. He wants the old courthouse to remain usable in some way.
“We’ll use it, it’s just a matter of what use,” he said. “I know we’ve talked about museum, turned into a museum. We’ve talked about leaving the top floor open for a venue, whether it’s for local clubs or organizations to go.
“… If it sits empty then there’s going to be some disrepair that comes with an empty building, so I’d like to see at least it stay relevant with a couple of offices in there,” he added. “I don’t know if (it’s) 100 percent feasible yet and don’t know what reaction would be with commission, but that’s kind of my goal.”
Shaver, who is part of the county budget committee, prefers to leave county offices out of the building. Others on the budget committee include commissioners Bill Satterfield, David Meers and Henry Cullen.
“As far as I’m concerned there won’t be any more county office business offices in the old courthouse,” Shaver said. “… I can’t imagine why we’d want to use anything. I mean I don’t know, the EDA might use it part time or the visitors bureau, they might have a little place in there somewhere where they can call home if they wanted to. To actually have staffed county offices in there I can’t imagine why we would.”
Commission will hold a workshop at 6 p.m. Monday at the county office building.
“I think the full commission hasn’t met on it but I’m thinking they’ll probably go along with the recommendation as far as building it a new annex and courtrooms and so forth,” Satterfield said. “Just be deciding where it’s going to be and few particulars like that. People here in the county, they don’t want to see — the old courthouse means something to them.”