PARKERSBURG - After a test revealed numerous problems with leaks and drainage at the Wood County Courthouse, county officials may be looking at costly repairs.
The stone building, constructed in 1899, apparently has several leaks that are causing sewer gas to become trapped in the walls, creating the smells, and there are locations where stormwater is draining into the sewerage system, which is not permitted.
"We received several complaints from visitors that the building smelled of sewer gas," county administrator Marty Seufer said. The complaints have been ongoing off and on for some time. Seufer contacted the Parkersburg Utility Board and a smoke test of the building was conducted. The test revealed multiple problem areas. Maintenance Superintendent Melvin Swiger noted some stormwater is running into the sanitary sewer system. "You can't do that, we have to change the flow," he said.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Wood County Maintenance Superintendent Melvin Swiger points out to commission President Blair Couch some of the problem sites at the courthouse.
Smoke testing is a process where smoke is blown into the sanitary sewer line. It travels the path of least resistance and shows up at sites that allow surface water inflow. Smoke can identify broken manholes, problem connections including roof drains, sump pumps and yard drains, uncapped lines and cracked mains.
"It's just speculation, but since these are interior drains, the sewer gas is probably coming back into the walls and it seeps out into the building," Seufer said.
Swiger pointed out areas to commission President Blair Couch Thursday where smoke came out of some windows on the side of the courthouse which faces Public Debt, and a section under the steps on the handicapped entrance ramp at the side of the building facing the courthouse annex. There are also multiple other locations on the fountain side of the courthouse. The leaks are marked with white paint.
"We need to get three quotes, and we have to go to bid with this. We need to make sure we have detailed information so we know what we're getting into. This is an anchor, a historical building and we have to take care of it," Couch said.
The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
County officials discussed the possibility of seeking a state Courthouse Facilities Grant to assist with repairs, but the current grant is already completed and the county would have to wait another year to apply.
"This is an emergency; it can't wait," Commissioner Wayne Dunn said.
County officials said they did not have a cost estimate yet for repairs, but it could be a costly and involved project since it may entail digging up sidewalks, going into the walls. Officials said some money might be saved if maintenance crews could do some of the sidewalk demolition.
"When this building was constructed there were no rules about the drainage of the stormwater, that was all right to do that back then, but then the EPA changed the regulations," Commissioner Steve Gainer said.
EPA regulations note as water runoff flows over land and paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops it accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment or other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if the runoff is discharged untreated.