Faucet floods county offices in York

YORK -- County officials spent Monday dealing with the damage caused by a running faucet at the old courthouse in York that overflowed and flooded part of the building.

The flooding problem was discovered Friday morning, when employees showed up for work, county officials said. The courthouse is home to the coroner's office, finance department and the tax assessor's office, among others.

The gushing sink was on the second level of the courthouse in the Register of Deeds office, said Clerk of Court David Hamilton.

"It ended up saturating everything -- about an inch and a half of standing water," he said. "But then it also made its way down to the lower level, which is where some of our older books are. And when we got down there, it was like three and a half inches of water. And it was coming through the light fixtures, coming down the walls."

Water woes shut down the courthouse Friday, and a cleanup company was brought in to help, Hamilton said. But while those cleaners were working in the building, one of them scraped a ceiling tile that contained asbestos.

Because of concerns about the asbestos, all work on the building stopped Friday night, Hamilton said. At 7 p.m., with books scattered, the building was locked up and everyone left.

"They shut it down," Hamilton said, "and we couldn't even get our books out until that was taken care of."

Tests over the weekend revealed the asbestos problems were confined to the Register of Deeds office.

To prevent further damage to the soaked records, Hamilton said, an Atlanta company was hired to pick up several hundred books and haul them away in a refrigeration truck.

The idea is that freezing the documents and drying them under appropriate conditions will prevent further damage to the records, Hamilton said.

Because the county had to shut down all fans and de-humidifiers, the moisture remained, and the county learned Monday that it has mold problems in the courthouse as well.

Today, all departments inside the courthouse will be open except the Register of Deeds office, which holds land records.

County officials don't know yet when that office will open again, Hamilton said. And when the county does re-open the office, he said, all the records won't be there because some will be in Atlanta.

The county does plan to re-open the office soon with terminals that show digital images of records, but those records only go back to the early 1980s.

"Older books right now are going to be, unfortunately, not available," Hamilton said.

The county doesn't know how much the damage will cost, said County Manager Jim Baker. It also doesn't have a timeline for getting the record books back, he said.

"In situations like this," Baker said, "the first priority is preserving the records."

The county is now talking to contractors about the asbestos problem, Baker said, noting that part of that cost might be covered by the cleanup company's insurance.