Decatur County Courthouse shows signs of neglect, lasting damage

Published 7:33 pm Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When you think of historical landmarks in Decatur County, more than one probably comes to mind. Oak City Cemetery, Willis Park and the number of beautiful homes lining Shotwell Street all hold historical significance.

But there’s one landmark that personifies Decatur County into a single image: the courthouse and its clock tower standing proudly in downtown Bainbridge, strong and iconic.

But even with its gorgeous, classic architecture, year’s worth of damage has crept into the walls and ceilings. Courthouse employees are searching for ways to fix the problems they deal with daily.

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Courthouse clerk Cecilia Willis spoke at the Decatur County Commission meeting Tuesday to highlight these issues and ask the Board of Commissioners for help.

“We have one of the most beautiful courthouses in Georgia,” Willis said, “and as everybody knows, there is a movement to preserve historical buildings.”

Unfortunately, preservation of the courthouse hasn’t been pushed strongly enough for the past 15 years. In 1999, Decatur County spent $5.6 million to renovate the building. Since then, the neglect of simple maintenance has snowballed into a serious problem inside the historic courthouse.

Leaks in the roof have led to water damage in the northeast corner of the building. Judge Edwin Perry’s office has been stripped of drywall after a leak in a gutter system caused an entire section of his office to become soaked. Judge Wallace Cato’s office a floor above has similar damage. A bookcase full of law books has been drenched with mold growing on the covers.

More mold can be found in other areas of the building where the leaks are prominent. The carpet is stretched, faded and threadbare. Duct tape is used to cover tears so employees don’t trip.

“We’ve got some general wear and tear on some items from when it was renovated—the carpet, the fixtures, the walls—they’re showing their age now,” Willis said. “And we’ve got some that I think are a safety issue.”

The majority of the window frames are rotting from water damage.

“I think we’re fortunate because so much of it is old wood, and that seems to be not as predisposed to wood termites, but when left uncovered for a time, we’re going to lose the historic windows,” Willis said.

Willis believes fixing the roof and eliminating any leaks can solve the majority of the issues. Next comes the windows, which if left unattended, could ultimately fall from their rotting frames onto bystanders.

“We’ve got a crew that comes over and takes care of the landscaping and we have a crew that comes over and takes care of the trash, but we don’t have anybody that comes over there and performs routine maintenance,” Willis said.

Decatur County Administrator Gary Breedlove said he was currently negotiating with a roofing company is Tallahassee to evaluate the courthouse roof for repairs as soon as possible.

“What we need to do is develop a short and long range plans for these issues,” Commissioner Butch Mosely said. “It’s not going to go away. This is a lifelong facility and a pride in this county. They aren’t going to go away, they’re only going to get worse.”