Work to begin soon on repairs to courthouse

Nov. 28—Cumberland County's leaders in 1905 built their new courthouse to stand the test of time — a decision that will save the county money as it considers how to resolve a structural issue with the 115-year-old roof trusses, Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster told the Cumberland County Commission.

"Aren't we glad that our commissioners and those involved in building this in 1905 did not cut corners, and they did things the right way?" Foster said during the Nov. 21 commission meeting.

The second floor of the original portion of the courthouse has a concrete slab floor — which Foster noted was quite a feat at that time. That means the county will not have to go through the floor to place support columns to shore up the building.

"It's going to reduce the cost of the initial work as well as the repairs," said Foster.

The county abruptly closed the original portion of the courthouse Sept. 26 after a structural engineer discovered two of the three wooden trusses supporting the roof had deteriorated, putting the building at risk of a roof collapse.

The oak trusses sit directly on the masonry structure of the building, and water has damaged the ends of the trusses over time.

That portion of the courthouse housed the Cumberland County Clerk's office, which was quickly relocated to the former Progressive Savings Bank building at 1760 S. Main St. It also houses the commission's meeting chamber, requiring the governing body to meet at the Art Circle Public Library for its monthly sessions.

The 1970s addition to the courthouse remains in use, with public access available from the Thurman Ave. entrance.

Ceiling and flooring material has been removed on both levels of the original courthouse structure, allowing for initial structural evaluation and providing access to complete the temporary support structures.

"The shoring work is going to include six columns — three on each floor — to transfer the adequate truss loads to the first floor concrete slab," Foster said.

Foster said that work is expected to start in 30 days, though it will begin sooner if supplies can be secured more quickly.

Once complete, engineers can conduct a more thorough review of the courthouse structure and provide a plan for permanent repairs.

Foster did not have an estimated cost at this time. Initial repairs are being done on an emergency basis, which allows the county to proceed without bidding the project.

Funds are coming from the county's courthouse maintenance fund, though Foster advised commissioners to expect a budget amendment before the end of the fiscal year.

The emergency relocation of the clerk's office has impacted another county building project — the renovation of the former bank as a county archives facility.

County Clerk Jule Bryson asked the county to consider allowing his office to remain at the S. Main St. location permanently, citing easier access for the public and more space. His office is divided among three office spaces in the courthouse.

The commissioner approved a resolution during the Nov. 21 meeting pausing renovation of the building while commissioners consider Bryson's request.

Colleen Mall, 9th District commissioner, said the discussion needed to include a comprehensive analysis of the needs of county offices, including other departments housed in the courthouse, and consider costs for potential solutions.

"There are repercussions involved with the archives and this," Mall said. "It's a big issue that we need to look at."

The resolution called for a construction pause through Dec. 31, 2022. However, Deborah Holbrook, 8th District commissioner, noted it could require more than just one meeting to determine a direction for the archives project and the clerk's office. She requested the resolution be amended to pause construction until at least Jan. 31, 2023.

The resolution was approved unanimously.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.