Structural issues close portion of courthouse

Sep. 29—UPDATE: The clerk's office is now open at a temporary location — the former Progressive Savings Bank building at 1760 S. Main St. in Crossville. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Portions of the Cumberland County Courthouse are closed to the public pending reinforcement of the roof and further investigation of the building's stability.

A structural engineer discovered two of three wooden trusses supporting the roof on the original 1905 portion of the courthouse have deteriorated over time, making the building unsafe.

"You need to abandon that area of the building and stop using it and the space below it," Kim Chamberlin, with Upland Design Group, told the county's building and grounds committee Monday.

The original portion of the courthouse — the offices of the Cumberland County Clerk and the commission meeting chamber — are closed to the public until further notice. The Main St. and side entrances are closed.

The clerk's office will be relocated as soon as possible to the former Progressive Savings Bank building on Hwy. 127 S. The county has been working to renovate the building for use as the county archives.

"We can set them up in there temporarily," Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster said. "We're lucky we own that right now."

It will take time to move the office and establish operations at the new site, Foster explained. He said he would work with Ben Lomand to transfer internet service as soon as possible. The facility also needs a thorough cleaning. It was unclear when that move could take place.

"The timeline is a bear. It's going to cost us some money," Foster said. "But safety first."

There was discussion of the committee about closing the office before it could reopen elsewhere.

Dewey Walker, 1st District commissioner, said, "You can't close until you move. You can't just stop."

Cumberland County Clerk Jule Bryson asked, "Who is liable if it falls?"

Darrell Threet, 3rd District commissioner, said, "If something happens tomorrow and it falls down and we know — we're in trouble. Safety is No. 1."

When the office closed during the COVID pandemic, some services were able to be conducted online. But Bryson said that required his staff being set up to work.

"We can call our surrounding counties to help us out," Bryson said. "It's an inconvenience for the people. But I can't say that it's my call or Allen's if the architect says we need to get out."

Commissioners asked if the office could remain open until Friday.

Chamberlin said, "It's not my call. The letter says it should not be used."

Bryson said it could be two weeks or more to get the office moved. He said other county clerk offices can assist individuals with vehicle registration, marriage licenses, business licenses and other items until his office can be reopened in the temporary location.

Charlie Seiber, 4th District commissioner, asked if the office could relocate to the small meeting room on the third floor. That could result in accessibility issues as the elevator is the only way for individuals unable to use the stairs to access that room. The move would also increase traffic on Thurman Ave., commissioners said, a one-way street at the back of the courthouse.

"I don't know how good that would work," Bryson said.

Foster added the clerk's office serves a large volume of people.

The move should not impact ongoing construction of a records vault for the archives facility. There will likely be traffic signs directing the public away from the construction area.

The closure will also impact meetings of the commission.

Foster said there are other facilities who can host the commission and the public for their full meetings.

The closure does not impact the small meeting room where committees often meet.

The closure will not impact the Register of Deeds office, Mayor's office, Veterans Service Office or the finance department.

Foster said Maintenance Supervisor John Doddroe was inspecting the roof after finding a water leak. He consulted with Kim Chamberlin with Upland Design Group, who suggested checking another area. Chamberlin recommended inspection by a structural engineer.

An engineer with Logan Patri Engineering of Nashville inspected the roof last Friday and issued their report just prior to Monday's building and grounds committee meeting.

"The roof truss bearing condition has deteriorated due to long term water damage," the report states. "The crushed wood fibers and soft material at the bearing location make a large portion of the building unsafe for human occupation."

Kevin Chamberlin with Upland Design said evidence of the structural issue can be seen in the commission's meeting chamber, with sagging of the roof structure.

"That's those trusses deteriorating," he said.

The oak roof trusses are untreated. They rest directly on the masonry wall at the front of the courthouse. The engineer found obvious signs of water damage.

"The truss member was very soft, the fleshy part of a finger could be pushed into the wood. The bearing portion of the truss member appears to show crushed wood fibers. The drop in ceiling in the room attached to the framing supported by the two affected trusses has dropped significantly relative to the surrounding hard connection points," the report continued.

Chamberlin said the trusses span the front of the building to the back of the original portion of the courthouse — about to the area of the elevator. The trusses are pulling away from the wall, Chamberlin said, and it's a dangerous situation.

The engineer recommended the offices and spaces under and around the large meeting room on the third floor not be used until the trusses can be reinforced.

"Shoring of the trusses from foundation up to the underside of the truss should be completed immediately. Once structure has been properly shored more extensive evaluation of the extents of the damage shall take place," the report continues.

Chamberlin said it is unsafe for anyone to conduct further structural evaluations until the bracing of the trusses is in place.

With a decision made to close the clerk's office immediately, the next step is to develop a plan to shore up the trusses, Chamberlin said. He recommended the county undertake that part of the work on an emergency basis to alleviate the need for a 30-day bid period or additional budget appropriations by the commission.

"I've got some names I'll share and we'll see who's interested in doing this," Chamberlin said, but he recommended getting to work on the stabilization as quickly as possible.

Colleen Mall, 9th District commissioner, moved to proceed with the emergency bracing and to close the clerk's office and relocate operations as quickly as possible. Threet supported the motion, which was approved by the committee.

Rebecca Stone, 3rd District commissioner, asked if approval by the full 18-member commission was necessary for the emergency stabilization.

"We've got three weeks until that next meeting," Stone said.

Foster said, "If we can work it out without it, we will. If we can't, we won't."

He said he would convene a special-called meeting of the commission if necessary.

Once the investigation of the structure is complete, Chamberlin said the architects and engineers could develop a solution. That could go through the county's financial process for appropriating funds and bidding work.

But it will take at least a month for the bracing work to be completed, he said.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at