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Chatham courthouse will be rebuilt

Posted Friday, April 2, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - Chatham County will rebuild the historic courthouse, commissioners unanimously decided during a special meeting held Wednesday morning to discuss the fire at the historic Chatham County Courthouse. After hearing reports about the building’s condition and a determination that the exterior walls can be saved, commissioners decided to move forward with restoration.

“The exact nature of the restoration will be determined later. We will form a task force and involve the community, Pittsboro, and court personnel to help us make the best decisions,” stated Vice Chairman George Lucier. “Our goal is that the fire of 2010 will be part of the history of the courthouse, not the end of it.”

The clock tower and the roof collapsed around 1:30 am Friday morning.

Chair Sally Kost opened the meeting by thanking the community and state and county officials for their hard work and cooperation following the fire. “I am very proud of the way the community came together in the midst of this tragic event,” Sally Kost, board of commissioners chair said. “We are working diligently to return life in Pittsboro to as close to normal as possible. We will continue debris removal while taking steps to protect and preserve the remaining structure.”

During the meeting, Public Works Director David Hughes reviewed the structural integrity of the building. “The western half of the building sustained less damage, and the Chatham Historical Association and probation offices were able to recover many artifacts and documents. The eastern half of the building is severely damaged and at this point still not safe to enter and do a full assessment.” Hughes added that he was confident that all exterior walls of the structure are sound.

In addition to the report on the condition of the courthouse, Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender provided an overview of the cause and origin of the fire. “We were fortunate to have the assistance of the State Bureau of Investigation and the State Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in this investigation.” Bender reviewed photographs used for investigative purposes and detailed how a conclusion was reached that the fire started when a construction worker using a soldering torch to repair gutters accidentally started a fire in the soffit area.

County officials are working with the NC Department of Transportation to open most of the traffic circle as soon as possible. If the proposed plan is implemented, the county would fence off the southern part of the circle, blocking only the section from US 15-501 South to US 64 Business East. The fenced area is necessary for the county’s debris removal contractors to have room for staging cranes and storing debris temporarily.

County staff also verified that every effort to preserve and reuse the wood and copper will be made, and pieces will be stored off-site as debris removal continues.

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