BANGOR, Maine — The first courthouse in the state to be owned and operated by the Maine judiciary will open for business at 8 a.m. Monday.
The $34.4 million Penobscot Judicial Center at 78 Exchange St. will combine Penobscot County Superior Court and Bangor District Court. Hours at those courthouses, located on Hammond Street, were reduced this week while judges, clerks and other personnel moved files to the new location on Kenduskeag Stream.
Ground was broken 26 months ago for the 86,000-square-foot, 3½-story building. A topping ceremony was held a year later on Sept. 8, 2008, when the last structural beam was hoisted into place.
The red-brick structure bears little resemblance to the more than century-old Penobscot County Courthouse, completed in 1905 at a cost of $116,500, and the District Court, a former grocery store bought by the county in the 1960s when the District Court system was set up to replace municipal courts.
It will be the first courthouse in the state equipped for the 21st century, Leigh I. Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, has said of the edifice. Current plans call for it to have entry screening every day. Prisoners will be kept separate from the public in secure areas, and it is equipped for videoconferencing and arraignments.
In addition, every courtroom will be monitored from a central security desk, evidence will be displayed to jurors, judges and lawyers on display screens, and defendants and their families no longer will be cramped on benches or forced to stand while waiting for their cases to be heard.
The courthouse, which cost about $600,000 less than was budgeted, also is opening about six weeks ahead of schedule, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Warren Silver said earlier this month. It was built by Consigli Construction Co. Inc. of Milford, Mass., and Portland.
Every courtroom will have natural light with electric window shades. The wood in the courtrooms is maple and is lighter than the paneling in the courtrooms in the old buildings.
The tables used by attorneys in the courtrooms were made by Thomas Moser Cabinetmakers in Freeport. According to Silver, Moser’s bid was lower than that of an office supply firm the state has used in the past.
One of the regrets many expressed about the move was leaving behind the mural in the stairwell of the Penobscot County Courthouse. Because it was painted directly onto the wall, it could not be relocated.
Through the state’s Percent for Art program, 1 percent of the cost of the building was spent on artwork. Several of the pieces are focused on the Penobscot River, the Kenduskeag Stream and the city’s history as a logging center during the 19th century.
The courthouse is the manifestation of the vision Saufley has articulated since she was appointed chief justice in 2001.
“So my vision, if you want to do the vision thing, is to make the judicial branch in Maine into a system that is able to respond to all the different types of disputes that come up,” she said in 2005. “And right now we still are not able to do that.”
Her colleague, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Andrew Mead, has said that Saufley “is leading the charge” to bring the judiciary into the 21st century.
Earlier this month Mead said the Penobscot Judicial Center is what courthouses should look like for the future of justice in Maine.