DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — If all goes as planned, moving Dover-Foxcroft District Court into the Piscataquis County Superior Court building could be completed by December 2010.
Piscataquis County commissioners on Tuesday signed a 20-year lease agreement with the state that will begin consolidating the two courts under the same roof. Twenty years is the length of the bond.
“Today is actually a rather exciting point because we’re actually at a point where the state is ready to issue bonds,” J. “Ted” Glessner, state court administrator, told the commissioners Tuesday.
County officials and residents have been pushing the state for years for some improvements to the courts in Piscataquis County. The current District Court building, a former private residence, is cramped and presents security issues because victims, witnesses and defendants must sit or stand side by side in the courtroom. On court days, people waiting for their cases to be heard spill out into the hallway, up the stairs and on the outside ramp.
Glessner said the state judicial system received a commitment from the Legislature to move forward with court projects, and the $5 million Piscataquis County project is first on the list. It will be followed by court projects in Augusta, Machias, South Paris, Belfast and Farmington.
The funding for these projects will be through bonds issued by the Maine Government Facilities Authority, which are bonds that do not go out for voter approval, according to Glessner. The state is ready next week to move forward with the bonds, he said.
Initially, state and county officials had looked at a stand-alone District Court building at a cost of $9.5 million, but while the Legislature approved the project, it reduced the state funding to $5 million. Glessner said this time the Legislature gave the judicial branch the money on the condition it was used to renovate the Superior Court building to accommodate District Court too.
Since the building is owned by the county, the commissioners will have to agree with the project, Commissioner Tom Lizotte said. If, for example, the District Court displaces the registry of deeds, the state would have to find space where that county office could operate, which likely would be in the current District Court building, he said.
Glessner said those details will be discussed later. The first thing the state will do is hire an architect who will perform needs and costs assessments.
Lizotte said the county receives $27,000 a year for rental of the District Court building. “The compromise here is we would have to give that up if the project is done,” he said. But that is overshadowed by the improvements.
“It will help our economy, it will replace what has long been a substandard obsolete building with major safety and security concerns, and I think, also it ends once and for all this nonsense [of] let’s close district courts in rural areas,” Lizotte said.
Glessner agreed and said, “Piscataquis County, like every other county, has to have its courthouse; that’s essential.” The fact the state is spending $5 million means it is going to keep a court here, which ends the discussion, he said.