The basement of York County Superior Court in Alfred – where potential jurors have been held before trials for about 80 years – has been abruptly deemed unsafe for crowds of people.

In all those years, the state Fire Marshal’s Office never conducted an inspection of the courthouse until Jan. 26, when a fire inspector found the basement violated fire codes and is unfit for crowds of 50 people or more.

That creates a logistical headache for state officials from the Judicial Branch and overseers for the county, which owns the building. For high-profile criminal cases, the number of potential jurors can swell to nearly 150, three times the number deemed safe for the room.

“I do not know why now, or who raised the issue. The building has been inadequate for a very long time,” said Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch. “The jurors will have to be in the upstairs courtroom, the only space large enough until the fire marshal is satisfied that the issues have been resolved.”

The courthouse has only two courtrooms: the main trial court upstairs, with 110 seats, and a small hearing room downstairs, with no holding area for prisoners. Now that jury pools are being kept upstairs, all court proceedings have to be conducted in the downstairs hearing room.

“It has not yet affected jury selection, but it certainly has that potential. There is no other court building in York County with a courtroom with space for a jury,” Lynch said last week.

The basement has never had a sprinkler system and has only one exit, dating back to 1936, when that section of the building was constructed. Those were the two violations cited in inspector Anthony Murtagh’s Jan. 30 report.

“The requirements have been there for years, we just never inspected it,” Assistant Fire Marshal Rich McCarty said Monday.

McCarty said someone complained about the conditions, the only reason the Fire Marshal’s Office investigated in this instance.

Many older court buildings around the state, like the Alfred courthouse, are not routinely inspected for code violations because they are inspected only when new construction is done, Lynch said.

The Judicial Branch is reviewing whether to build a more modern court facility in York County. The future of the county’s existing three District Court buildings and the Alfred courthouse are in question. The Alfred site can’t easily be redeveloped because it is not connected to a sewer line and relies on a septic system.

The section of the courthouse with the larger upstairs courtroom was originally constructed in 1807 as a 40-by-50-foot building. Two fireproof wings were added in 1819, but part of the older structure was destroyed in a 1933 fire. The entire building was rebuilt with an addition that included the smaller hearing room, basement and various clerks’ offices, according to Allison Williams, chairwoman of the Alfred Historical Committee.

County Manager Gregory Zinser said everyone agrees that the building is beautiful, but has its challenges. The recent fire inspection violations brought some urgency to dealing with those challenges, he said.

“We’ve never received a notice of violation before,” Zinser said. “It’s a little bit complicated, but we’ll get through it. We’ll figure it out.”

Zinser said he is working with state officials and the Judicial Branch about how to resolve the problems.

“How the issue came about is immaterial,” Lynch said. “It is a safety situation that we need to address. It is a significant issue in an 80-year-old building that is not fit for the needs of today. It is no secret that we have begun to speak with state, county and local officials about the need for better court facilities in York County.”