There is growing concern over a mold infestation and air quality issues at the Okaloosa County courthouse in Crestview.
County judges and employees of the courthouse have reported health problems that may have been caused by mold in the 70 year-old building.
“Black mold has been found within the duct system,” said Okaloosa County Public Information Officer Kathy Newby. “That’s definitely not good for our employees and citizens.”
Built in 1955, the Crestview Courthouse originally cost $400,000 — about $3.5 million in today’s dollars.
County Facilities Maintenance Director James Puckett estimates about 50 people currently work in the building. Offices based out of the courthouse include the Clerk of Courts, Court Records, Administration and Judges chambers, as well as the Contracts and Grants division for the county.
Newby said she expects further studies will determine if replacement or repairs will be deemed necessary for the courthouse. “With a 70 year-old building, we’re going to have to decide whether it’s cheaper and more efficient to tear it down and start over or whether to renovate the existing structure,” Newby said. “Over the years, many things have been done to try and keep the courthouse functional,” Newby added. “Several decades of fixes, upgrades and maintenance have put a burden on the building.”
Okaloosa County Commissioner Trey Goodwin said he’s lobbying support to temporarily relocate employees to other locations within the county, noting he had experienced health concerns after a recent visit to the facility.
Regarding where court operations and employees will be moved to, Newby says the county is doing whatever it can to make convenience a priority for courthouse customers. “We want to be able to have temporary facilities in Crestview, out of concern for convenience for the north-county residents,” Newby said. “Due to safety and security concerns, we may be required to relocate some court operations to the courthouse in Fort Walton Beach.”
Other facilities being considered are the empty agricultural building in Crestview and a portion of the Livingston Building at the intersection of State Road 85 and U.S. Highway 90.
Okaloosa County secured more than $20 million in bonds to construct a new county administration building and new offices at the sheriff’s office complex in Shalimar. Included in the funding was nearly $10 million to renovate the courthouse in Crestview. With the recent discovery of mold, officials expect millions more will be needed to build a new facility.
The Okaloosa courthouse is among several courthouses in Northwest Florida requiring major renovations or replacement. The 18-year-old federal courthouse in downtown Pensacola is currently sitting vacant while federal officials decide whether to replace or repair the facility after officials found widespread mold throughout the courthouse. The Santa Rosa County courthouse — built nearly a century ago — is also in desperate need of a new facility, but voters have repeatedly rejected any funding for its replacement.