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Lawrence courthouse gets extension on fire code

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

MOULTON — Lawrence County Circuit Judge Philip Reich on Tuesday approved another extension on the state fire marshal's order concerning the courthouse.

The judge originally scheduled an appeal hearing for Tuesday to decide the fate of the courthouse, but delayed the hearing to give County Attorney Cecil Caine time to present a proposal for negotiation before the County Commission.

The next commission meeting is scheduled for Monday at 9 a.m.

Caine said he hopes the county's governing body and the state fire marshal can come to an agreement at that time.

Caine and the attorney representing State Fire Marshal Edward Paulk have been negotiating since Paulk filed an order July 5 that threatened to shut down the courthouse for failing to comply with state fire and building codes.

Conditions in order

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 was creating a fire hazard.

Paulk ordered the immediate removal of all extension cords and removal of all records or debris from the fire exits and required a limit of 49 visitors or employees per floor.

He 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 agreed that complying with the fire marshal's order would "seriously disrupt courthouse and county operations" and filed an appeal July 10.

"We're not in a position to have a hearing yet, and everyone involved would, of course, like to avoid one because it's always better if everyone can agree without the judge telling you what to do," said Caine. "Any agreement will still have to go through the courts for approval."

He and Paulk are negotiating the terms of a temporary plan that would make the courthouse safer during the major renovations required to bring the building into compliance, said Caine.

The total cost of the county's renovation plans — including the non-required repairs — is estimated at $667,000, said County Administrator Linda Harville during the June commission meeting.

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