BURGAW — County officials and commissioners met Tuesday night and discussed the continued delay of extensive mold remediation and repair work needed for the historic Pender County Courthouse from damages sustained by Hurricane Florence.
“We’re holding court in every nook and cranny we can find,” Commissioner David Williams said, referring to court proceedings taking place in buildings throughout Burgaw.
Assistant County Manager Chad McEwen said the delay hinged on the county waiting for the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to come to the courthouse and “provide concurrence” with the hired architect’s repair plans. Such concurrence is needed, according to McEwen, to cover an insurance deductible of $35,000 that would be reimbursed by FEMA — but only if restoration plans were approved by the SHPO.
McEwen said an SHPO restoration specialist was scheduled to arrive Feb. 26.
“If we don’t have concurrence from the State Historic Preservation Office, we won’t get anything back from FEMA,” McEwen said.
Ensuing debate among commissioners and town officials revolved around whether FEMA reimbursement was worth the wait, if passing on the preservation process would hurt future county funding from both FEMA and the state, and if the county itself had delayed communication with the preservation office.
County Manager Randell Woodruff argued that if the county chose to skip SHPO approval, future state and federal funds for the county would be in jeopardy.
“If we don’t follow their guidelines it would be a big mistake. It would be a black mark against Pender County,” Woodruff said.
During the meeting, Commissioner Jackie Newton asked repeatedly when the architect’s restoration proposal was sent to the state office. McEwen estimated that such communication took place early to mid-January.
“At some point, and it’s not going to be too much longer, we’re going to have to account for this,” Newton said.
SHPO spokesperson Michelle Walker confirmed McEwen’s account that her office was originally contacted in October, but said the next conversation was with the architect Charles Boney on February 4.
When asked why there was such a delay, more than five months after Hurricane Florence caused extensive water and mold damage to the courthouse, she said, “That would be a question for the county. They initially contacted us in October. As far as I know, from talking to staff, their next conversation was the beginning of February.”
She also confirmed that her office’s approval of the restoration plan was necessary for FEMA funding to go through, and that an SHPO restoration specialist would be visiting the site on February 26. She said at this time the agent would assess both the courthouse itself and whether Boney’s restoration plans needed any modifications.
McEwen said the damage to the courthouse was getting worse.
“We had not seen any damage on the west-facing wall; there is now damage on the west-facing wall,” McEwen said, calling the nature of the damages “blistering”.
Director of Buildings and Grounds Allen Vann said part of the delay came from complications arising from the county’s private insurance company and an adjustor based in Texas.
“They tell us that they’re perplexed by the whole situation — it’s the first time they’ve dealt with something with this magnitude,” Vann said.
Commissioner David Piepmeyer estimated that there will be nine months of construction to come once preliminary plans are finally approved.
Chairman George Brown tabled the topic for the next board meeting on March 18 and urged county officials to apply pressure to the SHPO to expedite its approval of the restoration plans.
The architect’s report
According to the meeting’s agenda documents, Boney had provided a “complete and exhaustive report” to commissioners on January 22.
“This report provided [an] explanation for the immediate remediation work that needs to take place in order to open the building for business,” Vann said in a request to the board to approve a scope of work for the building’s restoration.
He also said that additional estimates were provided for a discretionary scope of work to enhance the quality of the building and aid in its resiliency in the event of another major storm.
Preliminary recommendations on the report included hurricane repairs, building improvements, site improvements, and disaster prevention measures. Boney provided low, medium, and high estimates for four phases of restoration work, ranging from $3.5 million to $6.2 million.
“The goal in all recommendations is to preserve the historic integrity of the Courthouse,” the report said.
(Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version cited the estimated cost of restoration work at $355,000 to $970,000, instead of $3.5 million to $6.2 million.)
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com