Jail fix expands to $500,000 courthouse project

Published 8:58 pm Sunday, May 21, 2017


A $3 million loan for capital projects the county is considering will be tackling a problem that has extended beyond the jail to the entire Beaufort County Courthouse.

In March, Sheriff Ernie Coleman was informed by the Department of Health and Human Services that the basement jail’s ceilings pose a fire hazard to jail inhabitants. The agency wrote it would close the jail if the problem wasn’t fixed to the building’s original, 1969 specifications. However, on recent investigation by Errol Warren, the architect who designed the jail’s expansion in 1987, it was discovered the jail may have never had the fire-rated gypsum board the original plans call for — that it simply was not installed in the jail, nor in the rest of the courthouse.

“Original plans show a drop ceiling, fire-rated. … When he looked at the second and third floors, there’s a drop ceiling, but it doesn’t appear to be a rated drop ceiling,” said county Manager Brian Alligood. “The short of it us, it’s not there now, and we’ve got to fix that.”

Previously, it was thought that the fire-rated gypsum board in the ceiling — the lower membrane of a fire-rated floor ceiling assembly — was removed in 2000 and steel plates were installed in the ceiling after inmates discovered they could crawl into the ceiling from cells and visit the nurses’ office. After a few inmates escaped using the ceiling crawl space, the change was made.

Alligood said there may be areas along the courthouse corridors where fire-rated drop ceilings were installed, but to correct the overall problem, the county is looking at spending $500,000.

“The plan is to do the entire courthouse,” Alligood said. “There’s an issue. Mr. Warren believes that there is an issue, and the state believes there’s an issue.”

It is unclear how the courthouse was built and passed inspection without the required fire-rated drop ceilings.

“I guess that’s the question we have,” Alligood said. “My understanding is that it was in the plans.”

He said the options were to install fire-rated drop ceilings or spray the underside of floors with fireproofing foam throughout the courthouse.

In the county manager’s recommended 2017-18 budget, Alligood has proposed taking out a $3 million loan for one-time capital projects, which would be paid off over a 10-year period. The loan would provide funding for four roof projects, the old First Bank building’s renovation into the county financial center, fixing and paving the Tideland building parking lot, capital projects for Beaufort County Schools and Beaufort County Community College and fixing the issue at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

Commissioners meet at 5 p.m. in the County Administrative office for the first in a series of scheduled budget sessions. County departments, human services, community services and education will be discussed during tonight’s meeting. The meetings are open to the public.