Judge says damage in Fayette Circuit Court extensive; court will reopen when it is safe

jwarren @herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2013 

  • Call the clerk

    The public can call the Fayette County circuit clerk's office at (859) 246-2228 to find out where hearings and trials are being held while the building is closed.

Court officials said Tuesday that it will be a while before they know just how much damage the Fayette Circuit Courthouse sustained in Sunday's flooding.

"According to all the experts, we won't know the full extent until the building is dried out," Kentucky Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble said.

"We have a lot of drywall and ceiling tile that is affected. We have a lot wood veneer in the courtrooms. It will be extensive. We know that."

Noble stressed, however, that the courthouse remains "absolutely structurally sound," despite the water that spread through the building when a valve on a toilet broke in a fourth floor bathroom Sunday night.

Officials said Tuesday that they've removed the valve for examination, and could send it for outside evaluation in hopes of determining why it failed.

Noble, a former Fayette circuit judge who served in district court before moving up to the state Supreme Court, led media members on a tour of the damaged building Tuesday morning. Despite initial fears, the building's law library suffered minimal damage, Noble said.

Some areas seemed unaffected by the flooding; other areas had visible damage.

A century-old antique table from the former Fayette County Courthouse showed signs of water damage. Carpets in other places were still squishy wet, and parts of the building were without electricity. Hallways were filled with fat plastic tubes connected to huge dehumidifying machines that pulled moisture out of the building.

However, officials said they've arranged for temporary quarters to keep Fayette Circuit Court operating through the rest of this week, and into next week if necessary. Court will be held through Thursday at the adjacent Fayette District Courthouse, they said, and both the U.S. District Courthouse and the federal Bankruptcy Court in Lexington have offered them space.

"I think the plan at this point is to do our motion hour on Friday at the Federal District Courthouse," Noble said. She said the public can call the circuit clerk's office to find out where hearings and trials are being held while the building is closed.

Noble said undamaged areas of the circuit courthouse potentially could reopen next week, but that will depend on several factors.

"We won't be released to let the public back in until the emergency access lights and systems work, until the water supply is good, and until there are no electrical problem," she said.

Meanwhile, officials said Tuesday that damage to the building might have been much worse if not for swift action by Fayette Deputy Sheriff Israel Vasquez Sunday night.

Vasquez was on security duty in the district court building about 10 p.m. Sunday when a passerby ran in and said he'd seen water pouring from a second floor window of the circuit courthouse. Vasquez said he ran to investigate and saw water "pouring like it was raining."

He found the leaking toilet in a women's bathroom on the fourth floor.

Vasquez, who has plumbing experience, grabbed some tools from firefighters who had responded and quickly shut off the water.

Michael Wiley, building superintendent at the courthouse, said it's unclear why the diaphragm valve broke. But he said water pressure on the valve was between 60 and 80 pounds per square inch.

"We've had pressure surges in the past ... we're still trying to eliminate various possibilities as to what happened," Wiley said.

The circuit courthouse is owned by the Urban County Government and leased to the Administrative Office of the Courts. It's covered by insurance, said Susan Straub, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Gray.

"I teared up yesterday when I saw the damage," she said. But ... nobody got hurt, nobody's life is at risk. It's stuff and it can be fixed ... We will get it fixed so it's safe for the public."

Call the clerk

The public can call the Fayette County circuit clerk's office at (859) 246-2228 to find out where hearings and trials are being held while the building is closed.

Jim Warren (85) 231-3255. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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