The Serious
Condition of 
the Courthouse

Near Disasters.  Due to decaying infrastructure.

Close Calls at the Courthouse
Ceiling in Courtroom Caves In. 

     No one was hurt when the ceiling came crashing down around 12:45 pm Wednesday in Mercer County Common Pleas courtroom, according to county officials.

     According to the courthouse Maintenance Department Director Lou DeJulia, the incident occurred in Courtroom #2 when a chunk of the ceiling plaster holding a hollow beam came loose and collapsed in front of the bench where Judge Michael J. Wherry would have been seated had court been in session.

     The largest part of it landed on the court crier's seat, but the mass extended to the area where the court reporter also would have been seated, according to Court Administrator Peter Morin.

     "Judge Wherry is on vacation and the court was not in session," said Morin "It also happened over what would have been lunch break."

     Morin said the fallen chunk of ceiling  - which he estimated to be about three by 20 feet - left extensive damage to the remaining plaster in the courtroom.

     Mercer County Commissioner Cloyd "Gene" Brenneman said he had the room sealed off immediately to prevent anyone from getting hurt should any more of the ceiling come down.

     "It does not appear to be water or structural damage," he said "It appears that it's just aging."

     That ceiling, as well as all the others in the courthouse, is a part of the original structure built in the early 1900s, DeJulia said.  

     "We don't know what caused it," said DeJulia.

     HHDR Structural Engineers of Sharon will arrive at the courthouse today to inspect the damage and check other ceilings for safety, he said.

     Brenneman said despite having to close down Courtroom 2 for a while, the courts will remain on schedule.

     He said each of the three county judges have a month's vacation through the summer and only two courtrooms at a time were scheduled for session.  The two remaining courtrooms will be used until the third is repaired , he said.

     "We have three months to get it opened,"  said Brenneman.

     "This is as good a reason, if anything, to get into the preservation of the courthouse," said DeJulia.

     County commissioners have been discussing the issue of preservation, but have been waiting to hear if money is available from the government since the building is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places.

     DeJulia said the crews will save as much of the fancy "dental work" as possible from the original ceiling, and that he will have a mold made in order to reproduce the original work wherever it may be necessary.

Part of Courtroom #2's Ceiling Crashes. Lucky, No One Injured!


In a building some 90 years old, it is not uncommon to run into unforeseen potentially hazardous situations. Such was the case as repair and restoration work progressed on the foundation slab of the west portico.

The original drawings had indicated a slab on grade; however, what was discovered was an isolated crawlspace.

Total deterioration had occurred to the center concrete slap. In fact, only five rebars that were 80 percent rusted through were supporting the center of the portico. The condition of the structural reinforced concrete slab was so badly deteriorated that eventually it would have collapsed. Because there was no access to the underside of the portico slab, this situation could not have been discovered prior to work commencing.


Lost lives or most certainly injuries would have resulted to persons had the floor given way. Fortunately, the slab was repaired and restored before any such occurrence. No doubt, other potentially hazardous conditions within the Courthouse are waiting to be uncovered. And, time is of the essence!



Electrical Fire Concerns

Sunday, Feb. 25, 1866: The first courthouse caught fire and was destroyed.  
Cause: Cooking Stoves.

Sunday, Dec. 15, 1907: The second courthouse caught fire and was destroyed.
Cause: Faulty gas piping.

Today , the concern for fire is riding on the electrical system, parts of which are in excess of 50 years old.  Some wiring is rubber insulation which is deteriorating and could become a shock or fire hazard.  Replacement parts are not available for some of the electrical equipment.  This should be replaced.

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the statistics on electrical fires are alarming:

  • There are approximately 440,000 electrical fires in the U.S.A. Each year (one every 76 seconds) which cause approximately 1,600 deaths and 5,800 injures.

  • There is an estimated $1.9 billion in property damages from electrical fires yearly.

  • From 17 to 25 percent of all residential fires are electrically generated.

  • One-third of ALL industrial fires have electrical causes.

The belief that electrical fires were more or less an "act of nature" has given way to finding by the CPSC that, for the most part, electrical fires are preventable - that there are problems with ether the materials or the installation which could have been avoided in the first place.

Although a review of many studies has yielded basically five reasons as the major causative factors for electrical fires, the ones particularly alarming in regard to the Courthouse follow:

  • Electrical fires originate at connection points, generally in receptacles, extension cords, and switches and are called "glowing connections".   This condition, only recently identified and named, is NOW designated as one of the major causes of electrically originated fires in older structures.  Glowing connections get their name from the red/orange glow due to heat which is caused by minute gaps in electrical connections points.  They are usually not visible because they are in the walls or at internal connections.  Forensic studies have measured the heat  in some glowing connections to be as much as 1400 degreases F.

  • Electrical fires start in the wires and plugs of extensions cords and other wiring - usually from being overloaded.

  • Electrical fires start from frayed, uninsinuated wiring.

  • Electrical fires are caused by loose contacts in extension cords, receptacles, and switches.

Common occurrences found throughout the Courthouse!

Back to Main Page

Copyright 2000 Mercer County Intranet
Last modified: 02/10/2004