SEBRING — Anyone who received a notice to report to the Highlands County Courthouse for jury duty or a hearing this week, it’s been canceled.
A 1-inch water pipe broke between the second and third floors at approximately 4 a.m. Friday and flooded offices on two floors, as well as basement utility rooms, in the historic portion of the courthouse.
Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine said no one could go into the building because he and other officials were worried about them getting electrocuted by 3-inch deep water.
“The county is going to have a mess to clean up in there,” Germaine said.
Deputy Clerk of Courts Jerome Kaszubowski, after doing a damage assessment, said water spread from the rotunda, where the bailiffs’ security station sits, toward the atrium between the historic building and the 20-year-old annex.
He said nothing got hit toward the front of the building, and the only damage in the basement was water in a few utility rooms.
However, the offices that handle probate, legal aid and pre-trial programs all had extensive carpet and ceiling damage, he said. Those who went in to assess the damage had to get computers up off the floor.
Kaszubowski said Information Technology staff still had to test the equipment, but it appeared that the communications closets that house phone lines and servers all survived without damage.
Germaine said the Justice Parker Lee McDonald Law Library, like other rooms on the third floor, also “should be all right.”
Neither Germaine nor Kaszubowski knew how long it would take to clean up and dry out the offices, and then get people back into those spaces. Highlands County Facilities Management Department was working with ServPro, a private disaster clean-up company, to work on the matter, Kaszubowski said.
Gloria Rybinski, county public information officer, said she did not yet have an estimate on the cost or time frame for cleanup.
In the meantime, Germaine said, with the Clerk’s Office having just completed a Phase 1 reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown, and preparing to go to Phase 2 on Monday, a lot of people are still set up to work from home.
They’ll end up doing that until the damage is fixed, Germaine said, but he said that option might be “the only good thing” about this situation, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.”
When the courthouse does reopen, in addition to visitors emptying pockets and submitting bags for search at the security station, they will have their temperatures taken and will be required to wear a mask inside the courthouse, Germaine said.
Those were administrative orders from the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, with which both he and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office were already scrambling to comply.