Decatur County Commissioners were in agreement Tuesday that repairs need to be made to the Decatur County Courthouse, which has suffered wear and tear and water damage since a major renovation was done in 1999.
Built in 1902, the main part of the courthouse, facing Water Street, is more than 110 years old and is actually the county’s fourth courthouse. The bell tower on top of the courthouse, which was used in a previous courthouse, dates to 1840. The Decatur County Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.
At one of county commissioners’ August meetings, County Administrator Gary Breedlove said that some of the courthouse’s offices had recently been affected by leaking water apparently coming from the courthouse roof after significant rainfall. A Tallahassee, Fla., roof contractor has been asked to come inspect the roof, which has historical slate tiles, to further investigate the cause of the leak.
Decatur County Clerk of Courts Cecilia Willis, who has a keen knowledge of the courthouse’s condition and history, was asked by Breedlove to present a summary of the various issues affecting the courthouse at Tuesday’s county commissioner meeting. Willis said the leak, which has caused water damage to the offices of Superior Court Judge A. Wallace Cato, Probate Court Judge Chip Perry and other rooms, appears to be happening in the northeast corner of the courthouse, where there used to be a chimney.
Breedlove said he believed the leaks were partly caused by a drainage pipe becoming full of various debris, which was in turn causing a drain box on the roof to overflow. He said part of the drainage pipe was cut open so that it could be cleaned out. However, Willis said the leaks have continued.
The sheetrock and insulation was taken out of Judge Perry’s office, exposing the bricks, and what was believed to be mold was found in the walls. The ceiling and walls of Judge Cato’s office also got wet.
According to Willis, there has also been water damage caused by air conditioning system in the courthouse; the drains that are supposed to remove condensation have also got clogged up at times.
- Areas that need re-painting as they haven’t been painted since 1999. Some walls and window frames have visible chipping.
- The carpet also dates to 1999 and in some areas, the carpet is “stretched, stained and threadbare,” Willis said.
- Some of the concrete tiles in the hallway of the courthouse’s first floor are loose and others need cleaning, however, they have to be cleaned with acid, which can only be done on the weekends when no one is in the building.
- Wooden window frames are in bad shape in various areas of the courthouse, including the secondary courtroom and the grand jury meeting room. In one second-floor window, the rotting wood only barely holds in the glass window panes.
- Some rainwater pipes and collection basins on the outside of the courthouse have been damaged in ways that make them work inefficiently or not at all.
- Damage to the wooden floor in the main courtroom, in the area where court staff sit.
- Some of the slate tiles on the roof are either loose or have fallen off the building completely.
County commissioners present at Tuesday’s meeting said they were very concerned about the condition of the courthouse. Commissioner Butch Mosely asked County Administrator Breedlove to begin developing short-term and long-term plans for how to address the various courthouse issues.
Willis offered the following suggestions for how the county government could prevent the problems from recurring.
- Perform routine maintenance of problem areas, many of which are known to employees who work in the courthouse.
- Replace or repair (where possible) rotting wood, worn carpet and fixtures. “It’s not something that will be accomplished overnight.”
- There needs to be a full-time employee in charge of maintaining the courthouse. The late Randy Henry, who passed away in 2009, used to oversee courthouse maintenance, Willis said. Since then, crews from the Decatur County Prison have done a good job of working on the courthouse but sometimes they aren’t available to devote full-time or don’t have the specialty skills needed for something like fixing the roof.
Acknowledging the fact that County Commissioners don’t have a lot of money to spend on courthouse maintenance, Commissioner Mosely suggested doing as much repair as possible using inmate workers. He said a list of all the specific issues should be drawn up and a priority fix list created.
“It’s a lifelong facility and a pride to Decatur County to get the issues [at the courthouse] addressed,” Mosely said.
Previous courthouses of Decatur County
In 1824, the legislature designated the settlement of Bainbridge as county seat. A wooden courthouse was built where that same year, near where Fort Hughes once stood. This courthouse was replaced by a brick building in 1832. A larger brick courthouse was built in 1855 where Willis Park is now located and served until the present courthouse was built in 1902. [Sources: GeorgiaINFO, the online Georgia almanac; the Bainbridge Heritage Walking Tour brochure]