It’s déjà vu all over again.
Just weeks after the Austin County Commission entered a contract with an architect to address mold in the county jail, they’re now dealing with the same problem at the county courthouse.
Following a lengthy discussion and several pleas from County Judge Tim Lapham of, “What do you want me to do?” the court decided to hire a mold remediation expert to evaluate the building and conduct an electrical inspection.
“The roof has been leaking,” said District Attorney Travis Koehn, referring to his offices on the third floor of the county courthouse on Main Street in Bellville. “We really need to address these issues and try to get the roof fixed. It concerns us that there appears to be some mold growing up there. The roof has been patched a couple of times over the years, and it just doesn’t seem to work.”
The carpet is stained and file cabinets are rusted, he added, noting that records and computer equipment have not yet been damaged.
Extensive discussion ensued about whether it makes sense to do a patch job when, historically, leaks have continued after repairs are made.
“Every time it gets patched, the problem is, it fixes wherever that particular leak was, and the water runs down and floods a different place. We never know where to put the plastic or where to put the buckets down,” said Assistant District Attorney Brandy Robinson. “Now we’ve moved from buckets to trash cans to big industrial-size trash cans. We’re going to have to move somewhere if we can’t get the roof fixed.”
Commissioner Randy Reichardt said the Commission continues to do what contractors recommend and the results are not satisfactory.
“Every time we fix it, it gets worse,” Reichardt said. “They can’t guarantee that they’re going to fix it.”
That led to discussion of potentially building a new courthouse or relocating county officials to another building. Commissioner Mark Lamp suggested bringing in a historical preservationist to review the site, noting that lawsuits could be filed and employees’ health may be compromised.
“I understand where you’re going with your suggestion, but that doesn’t fix the building,” Judge Lapham said.
Discussion ensued about the possibility of temporarily relocating the offices on the third floor of the courthouse, where the damage is concentrated.
“Are y’all making a suggestion that maybe we start looking at a courthouse somewhere else and we abandon this place?” Reichardt said. “I’ve been suggesting that for a long time, but I don’t’ really want to get shot. Somebody else needs to say something. This is a white elephant. I can’t fix the problem. We’ve tried. We listened to the expert. We spend money and it leaks somewhere else worse than it leaks before.”
Koehn said the DA’s office is going to do its job no matter where their building is located.
“We want to be close to the courtrooms and the clerks,” he said. “We’ll do whatever. Whatever y’all decide. It’s y’all’s decision, but we really need to do something … I’m concerned about the function of my office and the health of my people.”
Robinson explained that the water “isn’t just dripping in; it’s flooding in.”
“It’s like somebody’s got water hoses turned on in our ceiling just pouring water down,” she said. “We just hate to throw good money after bad. Every time it rains more than an inch, we have to replace the ceiling tiles. We have to replace the carpet. It doesn’t make any sense to keep doing that. The light fixtures still need to be replaced. They’re rusted out.”
County Clerk Carrie Gregor also expressed frustration, stating that the records in her office have been damaged and cannot easily be moved to a temporary location.
Lapham said extensive testing has been conducted, and the roof doesn’t leak when water is poured over the flat part of the structure.
“The roof is not the issue; it’s leaking from the pipes,” he said. “I’m trying to not have to redo the brick but that may be what we have to do. It’s not going to be a cheap deal.”
Commissioners recently agreed to re-caulk the building, but conceded that is likely a temporary fix.