Greenville Municipal Court is holding hearings outdoors this week while the building remains closed due to flooding from broken water and sewage lines that revealed underlying mold damage.
Tents have been set up on the front lawn of the court building at 426 North Main Street, and they are expected to be used throughout the week.
Repairs are still ongoing inside the court building, which was built in 1946. The building has aged terra cotta clay pipes for portions of its plumbing that became impacted by underground roots, creating a blockage and sewage backup, said Beth Brotherton, a spokesperson for Greenville city government.
Testing will determine when the building is safe to use again.
The flooding began Aug. 2. Cases that were supposed to be held last week have been postponed, and citizens have been sent new subpoenas to reschedule court dates, Brotherton said.
Magistrate Matt Hawley said only preliminary hearings were primarily scheduled last week, meaning there were only roughly 20 cases that had to be rescheduled.
Next week is an administrative week for municipal court when regular hearings are not held. After next week, court hearings should be able to resume indoors using portions of the building, Brotherton said.
The municipal court handles traffic and criminal misdemeanor violations as well as city ordinance and environmental code violations.
Brotherton said due to the age of the building, what was first thought to be a day or two of repairs turned into a longer ordeal since more problems with the building were discovered, including mold.
Brotherton said she had to wear a hazmat suit to enter the building to assess the damage last week.
A request for The Greenville News to view the inside of the building was denied Monday.
The city will spend the week working on mold remediation, repairing flooring and sanitizing, Brotherton said.
Hawley told The Greenville News an air quality test was done on the courtroom side of the building, and that portion was deemed safe, so staff is working to relocate into that courtroom to set up temporary office space.
The other side of the building, which includes more than a dozen offices and storage rooms, is the side that sustained the flood damage and where the mold was located, Hawley said. He said a portion of wall was removed last week. Mold was being treated Monday and he said that side of the building is slated for an air quality test and an environmental study to determine next steps and whether the rest of the staff can move back into their normal office locations.
Temperatures were climbing into the mid 80s Monday morning as Hawley held his final hearing for the day around 10 a.m. on the front lawn of the courthouse.
Minutes prior to convening, a work crew had installed cooling fans to the upper corners of each of the four tents erected outside. Portable air conditioning units and ducts were also set up outside to point at Hawley’s desk. Greenville Police Department officers stood at the top of the front staircase to check people in as they arrived for hearings.
Hawley said other counties had already held outdoor court hearings at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic so courthouse staff adapted their techniques to set up a temporary outdoor courtroom.
“Every day is a new day. This is certainly a novel approach for us,” he said. “
Hawley has been with the Municipal Court for 25 years. This is the first time he has held a court hearing outside.
Daniel J. Gross is an investigative watchdog reporter focusing on public safety and law enforcement for The Greenville News. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @danieljgross. Subscribe to The Greenville News at greenvillenews.com/subscribe.