By BRIAN GRAVES
A fire which knocked the Bradley County Courthouse out of commission for several months is the No. 3 Newsmaker story of 2017 according to a selection made by the editors and staff writers of the …
A fire which knocked the Bradley County Courthouse out of commission for several months is the No. 3 Newsmaker story of 2017 according to a selection made by the editors and staff writers of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
The fire occurred in the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 28.
Cleveland Fire Marshall Benny Atchley said the fire was contained to a mechanical room located just outside and to the left of the Commission meeting room.
"It was a pretty good fire," Atchley said, adding the blaze was successfully contained to the one room.
The call went out around 9 a.m. that day, after smoke was seen coming from the courthouse.
"One of the city firemen said they saw it — smoke coming out of the roof," said Commission Chairman Louie Alford.
There were other reports of some hearing a "boom" around the time of the fire.
There was no structural damage reported to the 50-plus year old courthouse which has no sprinkler system.
All damage appears to be caused by smoke and water, with the water coming from firefighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze.
The upper floor, which contains the offices of the county court clerk, the clerk and master, and a courtroom, suffered mainly from smoke damage where the output of the blaze entered the courthouse duct work.
County Mayor D. Gary Davis said within the courthouse a breaker panel caught on fire, probably from a power surge.
"It sent black smoke throughout the building. There was smoke everywhere."
The county had already planned to make energy-savings rennovations to the courthouse. The fire caused those renovation plans to be combined with repair work.
All of the offices which were at the courthouse were forced to be relocated to satellite offices and County Commission moved their meeting site to the Bradley County School’s central office.
Officials met at an extraordinary Sunday afternoon meeting the day after the fire to determine the plans forward.
Kyle Cuthbertson of Servpro reported on what his cleanup crews found in the building.
"There is smoke and soot throughout the entire building," Cuthbertson said. "There is fairly heavy soot on the main floor and heavy soot above the ceiling cavity above the drop ceilings."
He added there was less water damage than had been anticipated.
"The smoke damage throughout will take some time to clean top to bottom," Cuthbertson said.
That cleanup even includes paperwork that may have been exposed which is also covered with a fine layer of soot that is almost imperceptible until one brushes against it or touches it.
"All of the ceiling tiles will need to come out," Cuthbertson said. "They act as a sponge and it is really difficult to get the odor out of those."
He said the carpet on the main floor, now layered with heavy soot, will most likely have to be replaced, but the upstairs carpets "will be able to be OK."
"That's our first impression," he said.
He said that "obviously" there would need to be "significant repairs to the electrical work as well as the HVAC system on the main floor."
Cuthbertson said that although the second floor saw no flames, soot was deposited through the ductwork that will need to be cleaned.
He also added "a decent amount of the ductwork on the main floor would have to be replaced."
"That fire was in the room where the air handler was, and it was heavy inside that unit," Cuthbertson said.
Davis said many organizations and businesses had reached out to assist in anyway they could; however, the move back to the courthouse was not anticipated until no earlier than March 2018.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said on behalf of the city, “Anything we have is yours."
Davis called the cost of clean up “huge.”
"The good thing about it is we were going to have to work around the courts and offices during the planned renovation," Davis said. "They can now do their work in a much better environment and, hopefully, a little quicker."
He said all of the officials worked well together throughout the ordeal.
"The one concern was how quickly they could be ready to serve the citizens," Davis said.
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