District judge frustrated with officials over airport office issue

Steve Barrett/For the Observer-Reporter

Greene County Airport administration building is being restored following a March 24 fire that started in the building’s radio room. Magisterial District Judge Glenn Bates, whose office and courtroom were housed in the building, would like to know when he and his staff will be able to return.

Nearly seven months after a fire forced the Greene County Airport administrative building to close temporarily, a magisterial district judge who was displaced from his office and courtroom there wants to know when he will be able to return.

“It’s very frustrating that I can’t seem to get any satisfactory answers,” said District Judge Glenn Bates, who has since endured multiple office moves at the Greene County courthouse. “It has been seven months since we were forced to move. I thank (court administrator) Sheila Rode for working with us, as I’m sure it’s been difficult for them as well. But I have been moved around a great deal, and my staff’s working space is so cramped that they are practically working on top of each other.

“I would like to know when we can get back to our space at the airport building,” he added. “I would like answers.”

The March 24 fire began in the radio room of the airport building and was ruled accidental by the state police fire marshal. Along with Bates’ office, the fire forced the popular airport restaurant to temporarily close.

Greene County commissioners approved an emergency declaration April 8 for the building’s remediation, and Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration of Pittsburgh was contracted for cleanup and restoration. County officials had hoped repairs to the interior and upgrades to electrical wiring and climate control systems would be completed in a short amount of time.

However, repairs have proven to be more extensive than previously thought.

The county’s chief clerk, Jeff Marshall, said Tuesday unexpected issues in bringing the building up to current code have caused the delays.

“Once it was determined that the building wasn’t up to code, the project went from simply fixing an office space to becoming a major rehabilitation,” he said. “The engineer had to draw plans for the remediation, and then plans had to be approved by the Franklin Township building code contractor. We will hopefully get a more detailed update on the building’s progress soon.”

Marshall added that although much “demo work” has been completed, there is still much more remediation to be done.

“Electrical wiring and HVAC ventilation work still needs to be completed, followed by flooring and ceiling work and painting,” he said. “The county has said all along that the restaurant and district judge office and courtroom being reopened is a top priority, and that is still true to this day.”

Marshall said it not known when the project will be finished, adding all costs are being covered by insurance.

Bates said he and his three staffers were first moved to work together in a small room on the third floor of the Greene County Courthouse. He said he was then was moved to a small office down the hall and again moved to a room next to where his staff was working. Last month, he was moved again, to a room on the first floor.

“There was no phone or computer, the room was not properly equipped or usable,” he said. “But it was better than when the four of us had to share a room, and I would have to hold hearings with myself and participants huddled around each other because other hearings were being held in the auxiliary courtroom.”

Although Bates said he appreciates the court administration for working with him, he wants to know when he can return to the airport building.

He said he addressed his concerns to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), which informed him that any decisions regarding his location would be made by local officials.

Bates said he has tried to reach out to the county commissioners, chief clerk, court administration and judge to receive any updates and has not received satisfactory answers.

“My office (at the airport building) needed cleaned and painted, and plaster board needed replaced,” he said. “I understand these types of projects take time, but after the fire we were told the repairs would probably take one to two months. But recently a representative from the contractor told me it probably wouldn’t be finished until the first of the year. What’s going on here?”

Bates also said he is currently not working in his district, and AOPC’s guidelines state that “the governing body of the county shall establish an office or offices for each magisterial district judge whose magisterial district is situated in the county at such locations within the county as may be approved by the president judge of the court of common pleas of the judicial district which includes the county.”

In regard to the airport restaurant, last month commissioners approved a renewal lease between the county and Kathy Kiger for the restaurant. Commissioner Mike Belding said at the time that the restaurant has required extensive improvements, and Kiger has not been paying rent since the restaurant’s closing.

Belding also said last month that he hoped the building would be reopened in October.

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