What's the future of the hurricane-battered Pender County Courthouse?

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The still-closed historic building in Burgaw was heavily damaged by Florence last September

PENDER COUNTY — Since the Pender County Courthouse is still closed some eight months after Hurricane Florence heavily damaged it, rumors about the status and future of the historic Burgaw landmark continue to circulate and grow.

Those rumors, especially the most dire of them — that the courthouse will have to be demolished and rebuilt — are unfounded, said Assistant County Manager Chad McEwen last week. In fact, if all goes according to plan, a judge will gavel in a new court session in a revamped and renovated — but still authentic — courthouse no later than the beginning of 2020, he said.

Onlookers and concerned county residents may bemoan the slowness of the repair and renovation, McEwen conceded. But he said that the courthouse may open by the end of this year should be seen as progress, given the number of those seated at the table — the county, its insurance company, contractors and architects, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the N.C. State historical Preservation Office, and court officials, to name a few.

“Getting all those people together and trying to get them to agree on what kind of pizza to have for dinner,” would be a significant challenge, McEwen said.

But progress is being made, and bids for four aspects of the work to not only restore the courthouse to its former glory, but also to improve upon it, are about to go public.

The request for proposals will solicit bids to do work in four major areas: repointing and sealing the exterior mortar and brick; repairing interior plaster compromised by the wind-driven rain that a compromised exterior permitted inside during the storm; improving the exterior drainage and shoring up systems — sump pumps and generators and so forth — for protecting the basement level; and moving the electrical and mechanical systems out of the basement to a safer abode on the first floor.

The county’s insurance company will pay for much of the roughly $2.5 million of interior damage, for which they have already accepted responsibility, McEwen said. FEMA will pay for “several million dollars” of preventative measures, such as exterior drainage, repointing, and mechanical system protection. It is certainly possible, McEwen said, that county taxpayers will escape any financial burden — though local taxpayers may have to front money while waiting to recapture the funds from insurance and FEMA reimbursements.

“What the insurance company does not pay we will submit to FEMA,” McEwen said, “as basically storm-related expense. The mitigation items — things that need to be done but are not a result of the storm — are completely separate, but funding for mitigation is available from FEMA.

“In an ideal world, getting this building back to pre-event status will cost the (local) taxpayers nothing.”

And, in that same ideal world, it will happen prior to New Year’s Day.

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