Leaders divided despite approved plan for courthouse

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SPARTANBURG CO., S.C. (WSPA) Hundreds of courthouse employees now know where they will report to work during the construction of a new judicial center. 

Spartanburg County Council voted to keep courthouse operations in the current building on Magnolia Street in downtown. The building is 60 years old and has been riddled with mold and water issues for years.

Monday, the plan took a drastic turn during a vote in a special session in council chambers. Earlier this year, the initial plan called for the courthouse to relocate to a large off-site building for the four years construction is expected to the new building.

Council members say the issue came down to weighing the cost effectiveness of relocating an entire judicial operation while still considering the health and safety of employees. 

Two weeks ago the plan to relocate fell through when leasing issues caused negotiations to break down and eliminate that option that would keep everything under one roof.

An independent contractor hired by the county to look at the best options for a temporary courthouse looked at breaking up the different departments into several offsite buildings but said that drove up the cost and caused issues with the basic operations of the judicial process.

The independent contractor said the mold issue is not dire enough to warrant a move from the current building, citing the $1 million dollars that’s been spent on correcting the issue over the years and a report from OSHA issued Friday that stated “limited in scope” inspections turned up no violations. 

Clerk of Court Hope Blackley says the OSHA inspection didn’t examine ongoing issues she knows still exist in the building. Blackley and the Solicitor’s office, that’s also housed in the judicial complex, funded their own inspection the she says takes a deeper dive into the health status of the building. The report is expected to be completed and delivered to Blackley within the next couple of days. She says she’s already been told by the firm that conducted the inspection that there is still mold in the building.

Blackley and Councilman Michael Brown of District One say the entire process that reached Monday’s conclusion doesn’t “pass the smell test.” 

Following the vote, Brown said, “It’s not working and we’re trying to move on and build a new courthouse but again I think we could have exhausted different means of looking at this and we haven’t.”

Brown supported one idea that called for building onto the current detention center to temporarily house courthouse operations. He says that set up is used in other South Carolina counties on a permanent basis.

Blackley wonders why she and others who run the courthouse weren’t asked their opinions.

“Neither me nor the chief justice, who plan and run court, have given advisement on how we can operate court 

Councilman Bob Walker of District Five, who voted in favor Monday of keeping operations in the current building, says the decision came down to cost and “taxpayers just didn’t want us to spend 13 to 20 million dollars” on a temporary plan. 
 
Walker acknowledges the county will have to continue spending funds out of the budget to keep the courthouse mold-free and correct the air quality in the building over the course of construction.

If mold issues arise in areas of the building, Blackley tells 7 news she will petition council to move effected employees off-site.

Five courthouse employees have already sued the county with claims the mold has made them sick. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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