The Staunton courthouse, a 145 year old building, was shut down for three days in August after testing revealed that the building contained asbestos. However, in September, additional testing was conducted and it was found that there was no asbestos in the George M. Cochran Judicial Center that is located on East Beverley Street in Virginia.
Melissa S. Hart, a local woman, worked for a Lynchburg firm that conducted the initial testing on the courthouse and she is accused of falsifying the test results, according to the Staunton Police Department.
Hart, 51, was arrested on October 5, 2015 and is being charged with one felony count of forging a public record and another felony count that is related to falsifying documents. Her arrest is part of the ongoing investigation into the documents that were given to the City of Staunton, which discussed the alleged presence of asbestos in the George M. Cochran Judicial Center.
Supposedly, Hart falsified the asbestos reports and gave them to the city when she was employed by a civil engineering firm that the city contracted. Hart is no longer an employee of this firm. The engineering firm was reported to have found discrepancies in the asbestos test reports and they immediately contacted the city to let them know. There is no known motive as to why the documents were falsified.
Back in August, part of the third floor feeling collapsed in the courthouse, which caused the courthouse to close temporarily. In the early 1990s, the building went through some renovations and during that time, they went through the process for removing asbestos. In July, a few of the third-story ceiling tiles collapsed, which led to initial testing that said the debris tested positive for asbestos.
After the positive asbestos test, the city canceled some court cases and closed off the third-floor. However, on September 2, the city made an announcement that the courthouse was free of asbestos after a second firm was brought in to conduct another round of tests. Hart’s former employer, the Lynchburg firm of Hurt & Proffitt, had reported the initial positive tests.
The second firm that was brought, in, HDH Technical, Inc., did a thorough analysis of over 90 different samples of ceiling and floor tiles, insulation, mastic and other materials from all throughout the building, including the basement, and they did not find any asbestos, which was detailed in their 31 page report.
The abatement of asbestos that had been started on the third floor of the courthouse has ceased and they are now focusing on doing repairs to the ceiling that was damaged.
Hart is currently free on bond.