Federal court eyes county space during project

Posted Oct. 20, 2009, at 8:46 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The U.S. District Court is considering using space in the Penobscot County Courthouse and the nearby District Court on Hammond Street as temporary quarters while the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Harlow Street is undergoing a $53 million renovation.

Superior and District court personnel next month are moving into the new $37 million Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street. The facility is scheduled to open Monday, Nov. 23.

Rental income from the federal government could replace the $140,000 a year the judiciary has paid in rent for the District Court space, according to Bill Collins, administrator for Penobscot County.

Federal court employees toured the county campus with commissioners and other officials, according to Candace Collins, the construction project manager who is overseeing the renovation of the third floor of the federal building. U.S. District Court, U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the U.S. Marshal’s Office now take up the entire third floor of the federal building.

The Collinses are not related.

“They were impressed with the old-age elegance of this building,” Commissioner Tom Davis of Kenduskeag said Tuesday.

“Befitting of the federal court,” added Dan Tremble, county treasurer.

The county needs additional income to offset revenue lost in the move to the new courthouse, Davis said. In addition to lost income from the court system, the county also is losing about $150,000 it earned in prisoner boarding fees now that the state is running the Penobscot County Jail.

“We have to give the taxpayer some breathing room since we have no income,” Davis said.

The commissioner said Tuesday that the federal courts are seeking a two- or three-year lease. They expressed interest, he said, in using the second- and third-floor courtrooms, judicial chambers, clerk’s office as well as a courtroom and some office space in District Court.

Discussions about who would pay for possible upgrades to the county facilities if a lease were to be signed have not taken placed, Davis said.

Candace Collins stressed Tuesday that a decision about where the federal court operation might move to during renovations was not expected to be made soon since a date when work will begin has not been set. Other sites under consideration have not been made public.

Federal employees are expected to be displaced sometime next year when a major overhaul of the more than 40-year-old federal building begins. The renovation, funded by stimulus money, includes new heating and cooling systems, energy-efficient windows, new elevators, updated electrical systems, security improvements and numerous other renovations.

The federal building, built in 1966 for about $4.5 million, according to a story previously published in the Bangor Daily News, has a total of 165,897 square feet. It includes 15 federal agencies, including the federal courts, the Social Security Administration and the FBI. The U.S. post office also is in the building.

Possible temporary locations for those agencies have not been made public.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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