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After courthouse is condemned for mold, temporary digs pose logistical problems

Posted Mar 3, 2014 7:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The infestation at the courthouse in Washington County, Fla., was revealed after an 800-pound chunk of stone fell from the top of the building.

An inspection turned up rotten wood, water damage and mold—at least 12 different strains of it, the Panama City News Herald reports. Five strains were deemed immediate health risks, and the courthouse was condemned in December. Many official records were coated with mold.

Now courtroom sessions are being held in an annex next to the courthouse and in the county building a few blocks away, posing logistical problems, the story says. Prisoners have awaited hearings in squad cars because there were no holding cells. Judges waited in their cars or even the restroom to assume the bench. Officials are working to set up a temporary courtroom and many prisoners are now appearing via videoconference.

New locks and cameras have been installed to improve security. Circuit Judge Christopher Patterson, who heads a committee seeking solutions, told the News Herald that “we are in a wonderfully more secure place than we were a month ago,” but there are still concerns. Under the current circumstances, he told the newspaper, it’s a matter of when—not if—security will be breached.

A permanent solution poses more problems. The cost of renovating the old courthouse has been estimated at more than $4.75 million and the cost of building a new one at more than $8.8 million. But Washington County has operated at a deficit for the past two years and is more than $6 million in debt, the story says.

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