State looking to merge Piscataquis county courts

Posted June 23, 2009, at 10:32 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — Piscataquis County commissioners gave state court officials approval Tuesday to reconfigure the space in the Superior Court building to include a District Court.

Court officials wanted approval before asking WBRC Architects of Bangor and Portland to draw up a design that encompasses both courts in the Superior Court building.

The state has been “hemming and hawing for 15 years” about taking some kind of action to address the “substandard and obsolete” District Court, Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday during a meeting in Greenville. Now state officials want to move forward and do a project this year and the county supports that move, he said.

That work can’t come soon enough for court employees, victims and defendants. The District Court building is so cramped for space that when court is in session, people fill the entryway, sit on the stairs and spill out onto the ramp that leads into the courtroom. The judge’s office and clerk quarters also are cramped.

Lizotte said the judicial branch earlier had sought $9.5 million in its budget for a new stand-alone District Court in Dover-Foxcroft, but the Legislature pared that amount to $5 million. After two engineering studies and several years of waiting, Lizotte said the state is eyeing the original “Plan A,” which is to reconfigure space in the Superior Courtroom to include a District Courtroom and associated offices.

Options being considered include the relocation of the registry of deeds or the county commissioners’ office from the Superior Courthouse into the current District Courthouse, and converting the space vacated into a District Courtroom, according to Lizotte.

While commissioners supported reconfiguring the Superior Courthouse, they agreed the state also should front any renovation costs associated with relocating the deeds office or any other office that may be disrupted in the process.

Putting the two courts into one building makes sense, according to the commissioners. By approving the concept, Lizotte said the county would get a better facility, it would help end the discussion in Augusta to use the construction dollars elsewhere, and the work would help stimulate the local economy.

The District Court now pays the county rent, but would like to discontinue that if and when the courts are consolidated under one roof, Lizotte said. If that were the case, the county could ask the state to help contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of the Superior Courthouse, Lizotte suggested.

Once the state has a plan for the change, judicial officials will meet with the commissioners to seek final approval so the work can begin.

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