Ancient records at risk

Published 1:54 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Record vault moisture can’t be controlled

         By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Humidity can be a headache for people living in Virginia, but for old court documents, it can be a disaster.

Despite being placed in a new storage facility provided as part of a $10 million renovation project in 2009, more than 100 of Surry County Circuit Court’s records have suffered mold damage over the past couple of years, and have been sent away to Richmond for restoration and new coverings.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The amount of damage the documents have incurred of late has been unprecedented, according to Surry County Circuit Court Clerk Gail Clayton. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“Those books have survived from the beginning of the locality, 1652,” said Clayton. “They’ve been through the Civil War. How is it that they can’t survive in a climate-controlled records room?”

Clayton said she began writing letters about the room’s humidity issues to County Administrator Tyrone Franklin back in September of 2015, but a permanent solution has been slow to come.

“For the first six or so years it was working fine,” said Clayton of the air system. “It has been in the last two years that it’s fallen apart.”

The room had been equipped with a thermostat with an alarm system. When humidity exceeded the required 40-50 percent in the room, the alarm would go off to alert county staffers, according to Clayton.

“The noise is disconcerting,” said Clayton, who noted at least one instance this year where the alarm in the room rang for 72 hours straight, with staffers unable to do anything about the room’s high humidity levels.

Then, returning to work after Labor Day weekend Sept. 6, Clayton came in the room and saw a large hole in the wall where the persistent alarm had once been.

“In a climate-controlled room, that thermostat with the alarm system had been removed,” said Clayton. “So there is nothing there now. No warning system.”

While the thermostat itself remains intact, she hasn’t seen the alarm system since it was taken away, and is not sure who removed it.  

County Administration did not respond to inquiries of who removed the system by press time.

Brian Camden of Alpha Corporation attended a Dec. 1 Surry Board of Supervisors Meeting to provide an update about the situation in the records room, stating to the Board that he had consulted with a mechanical engineering firm that claimed the entire air handling unit had to be taken out and replaced.

The firm’s cost to remove the system and replace it with a new one is $44,415, according to Camden, who also noted that there have been several repairs and modifications to the current system over the past three or four years.

Camden said he also met with Moseley Architects, the firm responsible for designing the current malfunctioning system.  

Moseley Architects also designed the Isle of Wight County courthouse, and is currently working with Camden on yet another courthouse project for the Southampton County-Franklin courthouse.

“It seemed to me that if they got it right once over in Isle of Wight, why shouldn’t they have been able to have done it right here?” Camden said.

Camden assured the Board that he was not looking to enter into any contract with Moseley Architects for fixing Surry County’s courthouse humidity problem, but was merely getting their opinion on the matter. He also said he would see if he could enlist the company to help pay for a replacement to the faulty system that they installed 10 years ago.

“We’re addressing the situation, we understand the concern and we’re going to get to a solution that will finally repair the system,” said Camden.

Bacon’s Castle District Representative Judy Lyttle stressed that it is a timely issue that the county would like to see cleared up as soon as possible.

“It’s kind of baffling,” said Lyttle. “It’s not a good situation for Ms. Clayton, I know, and not for the county.”

Clayton said that Camden had come by to look at the room’s system last Wednesday, and was pleased to be informed that a meeting on further action was scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

While Clayton couldn’t say for sure the cost of sending the records away to be restored, the price for the county is undoubtedly a high one, she said.

After over 100 records were sent away to Richmond for restoration in the past year, 59 have returned so far, according to Clayton.

“I don’t want to have to end up sending any more records to Richmond, but I will,” said Clayton. “I will preserve their posterity. I will not let them deteriorate on my watch.

“I will not.”  {/mprestriction}