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TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2007
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Lawrence courthouse operates despite order to correct fire hazards

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — The Lawrence County Courthouse is operating as usual despite an order from the state fire marshal requiring the County Commission to immediately correct hazardous conditions.

Circuit Judge Philip Reich scheduled a hearing for Aug. 7 at 9 a.m. on the matters contained in the fire marshal's order and the commission's subsequent appeal.

The judge's decision filed last week allows the commission to refrain from implementing the order's measures pending the appeal hearing or further action of the court.

State Fire Marshal Edward Paulk issued the order July 5 following a June 28 inspection in which he found numerous fire hazards.

According to the order, the courthouse's electrical system was overloaded, occupied spaces were being used for non-designated purposes, junk or boxes in stairwells were blocking traffic and fire exits, and an excessive amount of paper records were creating a fire hazard.

Paulk's order required the immediate elimination of extension cords for electrical services, a limit of 49 visitors and employees per floor and removal of all records and other property stored in any stairwell or fire exit.

It also required the commission to hire an architect within 30 days, which the commission had already done, to prepare plans to bring the courthouse into compliance with state codes, and an electrician to bring the electrical system up to standard.

Commissioners said during a meeting June 9 that immediate implementation of the fire marshal's order would disrupt county and courthouse operations and that they are in the middle of a four-phase plan to correct the problems listed in the order.

The first phase — replacing a 20-year-old roof — is nearly complete. The commission has hired an architect to lead the final three phases, which include refurbishing windows, updating electrical and mechanical systems and repairing gutters and downspouts.

The total cost — including the non-required repairs — is estimated at $667,000, said County Administrator Linda Harville on June 9.

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