DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The state plans to begin its $5 million renovation of the Piscataquis County Superior Court building this fall to accommodate a new District Courtroom.
For many years, state and county officials have discussed the need to improve the District Court building, a former private residence, which is so cramped on court days that people charged with a crime often end up sitting next to victims and witnesses. There also is little office space for the three clerks who must shuffle paperwork between the courtrooms in adjacent buildings.
Discussions over the years have focused on either the construction of a new building or renovation. The latter was favored because it was more cost-effective.
“It’s clearly a very high-priority project,” Mary Ann Lynch, state director of court information, said Tuesday of the renovation project. “It needs to be done.”
“We’re still kind of refining the plans, but it is moving along,” Lynch said. She expects that the final agreement will be signed by the county and state soon and that bids for the work will be solicited in a couple of months.
Lynch said the state judicial branch, which has been working with the Piscataquis County commissioners, intends to consolidate all of its court operations into the Superior Court building. The Superior Court building and the District Court building are owned by the county.
The District and Superior courts will use the entire second story of the Superior Court building, according to Lynch. A new courtroom will be constructed where the deeds office is located, and the deeds office will be relocated to the first floor. In addition to the new courtroom, the current courtroom in the Superior Court building will be renovated. To accommodate court sessions, Lynch said, the work would be done in stages.
“We’re going to be carefully staging the work. We won’t be doing everything at once,” she said.
Lynch said three small additions to the Superior Court building are planned: one to the rear of the building for a separate entry for prisoners; one to the front of the building for a new entryway; and a small addition on the side for extra space.
The county offices that will be displaced will be the offices of the county commissioners and the treasurer, both of which will be relocated to the existing District Court building.
The county now leases space in the District Court building. Under that lease signed in 1990, the state pays the county $10 a square foot for space used, or $26,820 a year, according to Marilyn Tourtelotte, Piscataquis County’s manager.
Tourtelotte said the current discussion with state officials is for a new contract that will cover the maintenance and repairs on the second floor of the courthouse where the District and Superior courts will be located. That discussion, however, does not include rent paid by the state to the county since a substantial amount of work will be undertaken and paid for by the state on county buildings, she said Wednesday.
Should the state ever move the District Court from Dover-Foxcroft, the improvements and the building will continue to belong to the county, Tourtelotte said.