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Courthouse on the Square to reopen next week, but museum could be closed for up to a year

About 80 percent of the artifacts in the Denton County Courthouse on the Square need to be assessed and cleaned before the museum reopens, but government operations are expected to return Tuesday. 

Normalcy is slowly trickling back to the Denton Square after a fire consumed the Downtown Mini Mall on Dec. 26 at 108 N. Locust St. While the flames didn't spread to other buildings, smoke and soot damaged nearby businesses and the courthouse.  

Easterly winds left the interior of the courthouse covered in a layer of soot, including the artifacts in the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum. The cleaning and restoration company ServiceMaster has already finished cleaning the first three floors, and it is expected to finish cleaning the ceiling in the Commissioners Courtroom by Monday, Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads said. 

He said county employees are expected to return to their offices in the building on Tuesday. Commissioners are also expected to hold their regular Tuesday meeting in the second-floor courtroom. 

The museum, however, will be closed for at least several months, according to the county's Office of History and Culture Director Peggy Riddle.  

"All the collections have to be cleaned and rehoused, and that is the process that's going to take up to a year," Riddle said. "Some of these things have to be taken off site." 

Riddle said nothing was permanently damaged; the items just have to be cleaned with special equipment. 

She said artifacts conservators will have to restore some of the metal, ceramic and wood items, such as furniture. Some of the larger items will be cleaned on-site, while smaller items, such as paintings, will be sent to a lab for restoration. 

Riddle said the entire collection is covered by insurance. 

"The museum won't be open for several months," she said. "I can't give an exact date, because there's just a lot of things that have to be done and all my staff is working on getting the collections ready for the conservators. We're just in emergency mode." 

Meanwhile, Denton Fire Marshal Brad Lahart said investigators haven't been able to move any debris to investigate the cause of the fire inside the mini mall. 

He said insurance adjusters still need to decide what to do with the building. Investigators can't go inside until they learn more about its structural integrity, he said. Investigators have also been attempting to analyze possible security camera footage of the fire from inside the mini mall. 

Four businesses on the east side of the Square, including the burned mini mall, have remained closed since the fire. 

The owners of La Di Da and Shop the Barn said most, if not all, of their inventory was destroyed by smoke and soot. Joey Hawkins, owner of Jupiter House coffee shop, could not be reached for comment. 

He said in a Dec. 28 video on the business' Facebook page that he didn't know when the shop would reopen. He said restoration crews were still deciding whether any walls needed to come down.

Hooligans bar and restaurant, the Downtown Mini Mall II, North Texas Foot & Ankle Specialists and the Bank Building have all reopened since the fire. 

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882. 

FEATURED PHOTO: Denton County Office of History and Culture Director Peggy Riddle shows a quilt donated by Commissioner Andy Eads' family, which had a thin layer of soot on it at the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum. Riddle says that about 80 percent of the artifacts collection was damaged by soot from a fire that destroyed the Downtown Mini Mall on Dec. 26. Jeff Woo/DRC