A little more than a year ago, Robert Hunker noticed a problem in the Belmont County Clerk of Courts office where he works.
Hunker noticed trim work on the mezzanine level of the office had started to pull loose from the wall. The moulding was "starting to pop," he said.
It turned out the mezzanine was "way over the weight limit," Hunker said, thanks to dozens of file cabinets and stacks of journals and record books being stored there. Not only that, but the courthouse attic also was overcrowded with documents.
Photo by Daniel Dorsch
Cindy McGee, left, Meghan Ross and Kim Shumaker work among the stacks at the mezzanine in the new County Clerk of Courts office in the Belmont County courthouse.
"The attic was filled where there was supposed to be only foot traffic," said Hunker.
The St. Clairsville engineering firm Vaughn, Coast & Vaughn assessed the situation and recommended emergency evacuation of both the mezzanine and the attic. The "storage was not proper to design," said Jeff Vaughn. Everything was moved from those areas as a result, and much of it was stored at the Oakview Center temporarily.
To further remedy the situation, after renovation work was done the Clerk of Courts office switched places with the Law Library. The Law Library room was much more spacious and, according to Hunker, designed to support weight.
"It's a beautiful place in there," said Vaughn.
Formerly a courtroom, the Law Library room offered much more space and a stronger mezzanine area, not to mention ornately carved high ceilings.
"We've got room to fill now," said Hunker, "but we fill quick."
For the most part, reaction to the office relocation has been positive.
"We are able to utilize the space in a more conducive way," said Clerk of Courts employee Amber Sikora.
"We really appreciate everybody's hard work, and we love the space," said Clerk of Courts Cindy McGee.
The Belmont County Law Library Resource Board cooperated with the relocation efforts, but expressed a desire to avoid moving again.
A similar situation arose for Recorder Mary Catherine Nixon, whose office also contained mezzanines that were likely to fail because the office commonly hosts at least 15 people at a time. Many of those people are researching property deeds related to the oil and gas boom that has come to the region.
"We had to limit how many people were allowed upstairs," said Nixon.
No renovation work has been done yet on the Recorder's Office mezzanine. But the books have all been removed from the upper level, and many were placed into storage at the Oakview Center. Work to reorganize the office and the storage shelves at Oakview is ongoing. Some files are being made available electronically now, after documents were scanned into the office's computer system.
With the safety issue resolved for now and less clutter in her office, Nixon called the matter a "blessing in disguise."