Old courthouse's safety a concern

Moved-in rats, cost to move back in still issues up in air

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After moving out in May, no one expected to be spending the first week of June moving back into the old Duval County Courthouse.

But that's what will happen now that the new courthouse has failed multiple fire safety tests, delaying court proceedings for two weeks.

Now it's come to "Plan C," or the worst case scenario. The goal is to have the old courthouse open for business next Monday.

"I think it needs a little cleaning up," Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller said. "I am not sure about the building codes. We were in it for 58 years so."

Judge Lance Day was inside checking out the progress Monday as workers assessed what needs to be done. Day doesn't believe the move will be easy or cheap.

"Oh, it's a very frustrating experience," he said. "We have to get the computers hooked up. We have to, at the very least, get temporary furniture back in here. Then we've got to secure the building."

There's lots of things missing from the old courthouse, like metal detectors in the lobbies and signs on the walls.

On the first floor in the Clerk of Courts Office, nothing has been brought back in yet. There are still empty boxes and empty shelves. One of the courtrooms on the second floor has tables and chairs, and a podium and a microphone stand.

One of the concerns with the old courthouse is rats that have moved in.

"Unfortunately, there was some trash and some food products left in the old building when they moved out," Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt said. "This is Jacksonville, and rats found it. We got exterminators to take care of those issues. The building is safe. It's been safe for years. It's still safe."

But in a meeting Monday, State Attorney Angela Corey openly questioned how safe the old building is.

"It's a building where I don't know what the fire code issues are with that building or any other safety issues," Corey said. "It hasn't been a well-enough building or a quality safe-enough building for a long time."

Then there's the cost of moving back in. Some say lawyers will figure out who will foot the bill. The irony is the cost of the move back to the old courthouse may have to be hammered out in a courtroom.

"Do we have to move everything out of the new courthouse? No," Senterfitt said. "Are we going to have to move some stuff back into the old courthouse? Yes. As for cost, I'll let the attorneys discuss the cost issue."

"The attorneys will get involved, and ultimately who will be responsible for the final cost, it will be vetted out at that point," said Greg Pease, chief of the Procurement Division. "It's too early to tell right now. It's very fluid. It's in motion right now, and to give an estimate at this point is just too early."

Day said of all the issues, the computer system may be the most challenging to move back in and get up and running by next Monday.

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