Fayette Circuit Court could be out of operation for weeks, officials say

jwarren@herald-leader.comOctober 25, 2013 

Parts of the flood-damaged Fayette County Circuit Courthouse could reopen Nov. 4, but some other sections might be out of operation for weeks, a state court official said Friday.

Vance Mitchell, facilities manager for the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, said the plan for the partial reopening on Nov. 4 would include the complete fourth floor, the Fayette Circuit Clerk's office and other facilities on the first floor, plus courtrooms A and B on the second floor and third floors.

More seriously damaged areas on the second and third floors — including other courtrooms — will need extensive repairs that could keep them closed for four to six weeks, he said.

The first four floors of the courthouse were damaged when a flush valve on a toilet in a fourth floor bathroom failed sometime after 5 p.m. Sunday. Water coursed through the building until the leak was discovered about 10 p.m. Sunday.

The schedule for a phased reopening of the courthouse apparently means Fayette Circuit Court judges will have to continue operating in alternative locations well into next month. Circuit court was held at the Fayette District Courthouse Tuesday through Thursday, and some circuit court judges held motion hour Friday at the U.S. District Courthouse in Lexington, officials said.

It hasn't been necessary to use the federal bankruptcy court, officials said, although authorites have offered to make it available.

Mitchell said it will take two different levels of repairs to get the circuit courthouse fully functional again.

"For the lightly damaged areas, we're talking about simply drying out carpets and repairing woodwork," he said. "Whereas, on the second floor, which got it the worst, we're taking about replacing judge's benches, long-lead-time items that you can't just got out and buy at Lowe's."

Ceilings, flooring and walls in some courtrooms also will need extensive repairs, according to Mitchell. Some damage to wiring has been found, and workers were figuring out how badly computers and other electronics equipment were damaged.

Mitchell declined to estimate the total cost of the damage, saying that was "a little preliminary."

Officials planned a "walk-through" of the courthouse later Friday with insurance adjusters and representatives of the Urban County Government to start planning repairs that will be needed for the partial reopening on Nov. 4.

The Urban County Government, which owns the courthouse, has insurance on the building itself. The Administrative Office of the Courts has separate insurance on the building contents, according to Mitchell.

He said investigators still don't know why the flush valve failed and released a geyser of water into the building.

"It wasn't a leaking toilet," he said. "This was a steady, two-inch stream of water that ran for multiple hours. I'm guessing it probably ran four or five hours."

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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