Could County Courthouse fire have been prevented?

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Could the weekend fire at the Milwaukee County Courthouse have been prevented? The fire led to the closure of the Courthouse and Public Safety Building early this week. A building inspection report shows county leaders were warned about safety issues in February.

"I came to file my marriage license and I was told the Courthouse was closed," Alexis Morgan said Monday.

Sheriff's deputies on Monday blocked entrances to the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Dozens were turned away -- learning the Courthouse will be shut down until at least Wednesday.

"I guess we’re not allowed in because of a fire," Greg Smith said.

The weekend fire caused electrical and smoke damage to the building. Benches blocked hallways to closed areas of the Courthouse.

Outside the building, gates shut down part of a road, allowing only construction crews through.

"I could smell the smoke.  I definitely could tell there was a fire in there," Smith said.

A building inspection report warned about problems inside the Courthouse. The CBRE Comprehensive Facilities Analysis completed in February says:

  • "The building does not meet current codes or standards."
  • "Most of the HVAC systems are at the end of their service life."
  • "Electrical equipment is 47 years old, and is approaching or beyond its life expectancy."

"Deferred maintenance never happens overnight.  It accumulates for all sorts of reasons.  We need to address it and that’s what I’m focused on," County Executive Chris Abele said Monday.

Abele says he's avoiding a blame game -- wanting instead to focus on getting operations up and running.

"People care less about whose fault it is, they care that we catch up on it," Abele said.

As crews work, many wait for court to be back in session.

"If we do our job right, we’re going to end up with a Courthouse that’s better prepared, better equipped, better resourced that it was before," Abele said.

A statement released by County Executive Abele's Office reads:

The Milwaukee County Courthouse and Safety Building will remain closed on Tuesday, July 9th, after a fire caused some electrical and smoke damage over the weekend.  The Milwaukee Criminal Justice Facility (CJF), including the jail, remains open.

  • All court cases and jury duty for Tuesday are postponed.
  • If you have a preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday report to the CJF room 146.
  • If you have an injunction hearing or a restraining order hearing Tuesday report to CJF room G55.
  • All other court cases should report next Tuesday.
  • The District Attorney’s Office is staffed and open for normal charging operations.
  • Anyone scheduled to meet with the District Attorney’s Office should report to the CJF at their scheduled time.
  • County employees who work in the Courthouse and Safety Building should not report to work on Tuesday unless they are told otherwise by their manager, however they will be paid for this time.
  • For safety reasons, employees and the public will not have access to the Courthouse and Safety Buildings.
  • Employees and the public can check for updates by calling the Milwaukee County Hotline, 414-278-3900 or website, 
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