Poplarville courthouse needs facelift

Published 4:38 pm Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mold, dry wall that doesn’t stay so dry and floors to match are some of the adverse conditions Pearl River County courthouse employees have been dealing with for years now.

About 10 years before Hurricane Katrina the working conditions in the county courthouse in Poplarville had been in constant decline, said Ken Hall. Hall works for a local attorney and does frequent research in the building.

Cosmetic interior work was performed 10 years ago by a former county supervisor’s relative with little to no long term success, Hall said. Courthouse employee Jimmie Stockstill, said in 1997 about $200,000 in roof repair work on the courthouse lasted only a couple of months before it started leaking again. Hall said the failed work was in part because nothing was really fixed, just painted over or superficially repaired.

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Now the courthouse, especially the Chancery Clerk’s office, has numerous areas where mold is growing, dry wall is crumbling to the ground and water leaks to the floor damaging records, Hall said.

“We have a lot of people come here from other counties and are dumbfounded at the current condition of the courthouse,” Hall said. “If it was a business I don’t think people would conduct business here.”

When they started working in the courthouse Hall and Stockstill say they have suffered from allergies. Hall said the mold in the building has been causing him to have allergy and other medical problems. Stockstill said she was suffering from allergies before she took a break from working at the courthouse but in 1999 when she returned her allergies returned after only a couple of weeks. Hall said since he started working there he also has sinus headaches and has had two surgeries to remove growths from around his nasal passages, but said he has no scientific evidence to link his illnesses to the current condition of the courthouse. Stockstill said she now takes allergy medication such as Zyrtec and Tylenol to avoid being ill.

“Anything I can get my hands on,” Stockstill said.

Hall pointed out a section of the men’s bathroom ceiling that covered with mold and sinking from where the roof leaks on it.

Hall said the Grand Jury has toured the courthouse saying they will make a recommendation to do repairs to the building but nothing ever comes of it.

A major reason there have been no major changes to the roof of the courthouse is because the historical society will not allow it, Stockstill said. However the roof continues to leak and damage files, in addition to worsening the wall and ceiling situation.

“We keep plastic back here to cover up the files,” Stockstill said.

Two county supervisors said they are aware of the situation and will work on finding funding for repairs to the aging building.

“We are going to do everything we possibly can to make the courthouse a good place for the public to come and employees to work,” said board president Danny Wise.

Wise said the board is waiting on the insurance company to settle their claim and for a public works to settle with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Once those two financial settlements are cleared a new roof will be installed on the courthouse, Wise said.

Replacing the old courthouse with a new courthouse will be a more involved process, District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said. Wise said if the board could get the state to let the county collect an additional one percent sales tax for use by the county some of that money could be used to fund a new courthouse, among other things.

“That’s a very long way from happening at this point,” Wise said.

Thigpen said he would like to see the courthouse rehabilitated and eventually a new one built in the area of Millard, even though there are currently laws that state the courthouse is required to be located at the county seat, Poplarville. However Thigpen said there were laws that also stated that the jail needs to be stationed in the county seat, but those laws were changed to put the county jail in Millard.

“I’d like to see us build a modern building at Millard, something completely handicapped accessible and built for the computer age that we’re in,” Thigpen said.

If the new courthouse is built in Millard Thigpen would like to see the board donate the old building to the city of Poplarville for use as a chamber of commerce, blueberry festival headquarters, and a community center.