BURGAW — Damages sustained by Hurricane Florence to the historic Pender County Courthouse will delay its reopening indefinitely.
According to Clerk of Superior Court Elizabeth Craver, normal court proceedings will continue at the Frances Dawson Basden Judicial Annex on Dickerson Street and at the county commissioner’s office.
“I’ve got courts spread all over Burgaw right now,” Craver said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m using the judge’s chambers … the civil department has three clerks and a cashier in a 14-by-12-foot room.”
According to Craver, the courthouse building’s status is currently at a standstill because the entire east wall of the courthouse is saturated with water. Only after an industrial hygienist has completed a report on how to safely remove lead paint and parts of plaster to dry out the wall — and address asbestos concerns — can a more specific timeframe be put forward, she said.
Craver also said that long before Florence, “we’ve known there’s been a moisture-related issue in that courthouse.”
The basement was flooded from floor to ceiling, according to Craver, frying the breaker box and forcing contractors to pump out the water, replace the breaker box, and run new wiring throughout the building.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but [the county] needs to get us in a building,” Craver said. “This is temporary. We will stay at the Annex as long as we have to, but it’s not feasible for all the courts we have going on. There’s not enough room for that.”
On days like Wednesday with multiple court proceedings taking place — in this case, traffic court, bringing in 800 people, and family court — an impromptu courtroom must be set up in the county commissioner’s office.
Although Craver said that her staff covered all equipment and files with tarps before the storm reached Burgaw, protecting them from several leaks in the building, a contractor is now working to salvage files affected by moisture, “running dehydrators 24 hours a day to draw out moisture to save some of these files.”
Samantha Dooies, assistant to District Attorney Ben David who oversees both New Hanover and Pender counties, said the displacement of the courthouse staff reflects hardships shared by residents throughout Pender County.
“Unfortunately so many of the Pender County residents are literally underwater themselves so they’re dealing with the same challenges that the building deals with, but I’m confident that we’ll continue to be able to meet their needs,” Dooies said. “Crime doesn’t take a holiday and it certainly doesn’t care that we’ve got these infrastructure challenges. So we are continuing to focus our time and attention on meeting the needs of Pender County citizens and doing justice for that county despite these bumps in the road.”
Dooies said that staff from the district attorney’s office, who normally work from the second and third floors of the Burgaw courthouse — two assistant district attorneys and three legal assistants — must daily commute from the Wilmington office every day.
Craver said that normal court hours are taking place at Annex building at 100 S. Dickerson Street and the phone number is still (910) 663-3900. If someone receives notice for jury duty, they must come in or let the court know if they are displaced because of Florence-related damages, in which case they will be excused.
If anybody has matters with the district attorney’s office that they need to address with the Pender County district attorney staff, they can call the New Hanover & Pender DA office in Wilmington at (910) 772-6900 or visit newhanoverpenderda.com for more information or to get in touch with somebody.
Reporter Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com