February 21, 2018
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Milo lawyer asks commissioners to reject court plan

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Milo lawyer slammed a proposed sketch for the renovation of the Piscataquis County superior court to accommodate a district court.

Since the current district court is too cramped and poses security problems, the state has earmarked $5 million for the consolidation of the district and superior courts under one roof. The approach, similar to a project completed in Houlton, would involve the renovation of the building housing superior court to include a district court and its associated offices.

The proposed plan would have the second floor dedicated to courtrooms, the judge’s chambers, the clerk’s office and conference rooms. The Registry of Deeds, now on the second floor, would be relocated into the current probate courtrooms and the probate courtrooms into the county commissioners’ office, all on the first floor. The commissioners’ office would be relocated to the current district court building.

That proposal, released to county employees earlier this month, fell short as far as attorney Neil Hamlin was concerned.

On Tuesday, Piscataquis County commissioners read a letter in which Hamlin weighed in on the proposal: “It is one thing to see money wasted, but to end up with an excellent facility for the waste. It is quite another to see money wasted, and see excellent county facilities reduced to less than mediocre facilities.”

Hamlin said he had reviewed the architect’s drawings and the only good thing he could say about them was that they combined all of the court facilities into one building, as the state wanted.

State officials, who have been contemplating new construction or renovation for many years, had earlier considered a stand-alone district courthouse, but that later was abandoned because of the estimated $9.5 million cost.

Rather than cramming the current county offices into smaller spaces in order to provide district court space, Hamlin wrote the state should build a new building.

“I am sorry, but it does not cost $10 million to build a functional courthouse in Piscataquis County,” Hamlin said.

To back his point, he said Foxcroft Academy built a two-story dormitory for a little more than $3 million, so a stand-alone district courthouse could be constructed for less than the state has budgeted for the renovations.

With state finances so tight, and the fact that it has taken years to get the state to address the court problem, Commissioner Fred Trask said the county has to “take what we can get.”

Hamlin challenged the commissioners to say “no” to the current plan and to ask state officials to take the lead in saving money by building facilities the state can afford.

“The proposal is a patchwork job that does nothing other than produce, at best, a third-rate courthouse and a fourth- or fifth-rate Registry of Deeds,” Hamlin wrote.

Commissioner Tom Lizotte noted this was the first draft produced by the state’s architect.



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