Planning begins for new Machias courthouse space

Posted Sept. 08, 2011, at 11:16 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Planning has begun for a $13 million renovation or expansion of the existing courtroom space in Machias.

“Our District Court is held in a broom closet,” Chris Gardner, chairman of the Washington County commissioners, said Thursday afternoon. Gardner charged County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald with pulling together a working group to include commissioners, the sheriff, department heads and others. He said the group will begin meeting immediately.

Putting the work out to bid could take place as early as next spring, Ted Gessler of the Maine Court System told the commissioners. Part of Gov. Paul LePage’s $6 billion budget this year was $48.4 million for the judicial branch.

The budget includes $1 million to begin funding renovations at Augusta and Machias courthouses. The remainder of the project’s cost will be financed through bonds.

Commissioner Kevin Shorey said that options for expanded space at Machias have been floated for more than 10 years.

Gessler said a working group will be necessary because despite the availability of previous proposals, today’s needs may be quite different.

“We need to begin with a clean slate,” Gessler said. “We are now at the point that we have the money, we have the authorization for a building project here. Bonding and hiring architects could begin as early as spring.”

Gardner suggested caution in the process. “Counties are all reeling in the wake of jail consolidation. Let it be very clear, the state came to us to solve its problems,” he said. “We need to be mindful that just because we have the promise of a building, we don’t just run with this.”

Gessler agreed. “We need to look at all options,” he said.

Gessler said the next step is to begin a series of conversations between the court system and the county officials.

The Machias courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was opened in 1854.

In other business, the county commissioners:

• Approved a tax increment financing district for the Bowers Mountain Wind Power project, which will provide $10,000 a year for the next 20 years to lower residents’ electricity bills in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. The project’s permit hearing before the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission will be Oct. 5.

• Awarded the county’s salt bid to Mid-Atlantic Salt LLC of Winterport at $63.55 per ton. The county used 6,000 tons last season.

• Awarded the bid for a patrol truck for the Sheriff’s Department to Darling’s for $22,000.

• Acknowledged the service of Unorganized Township Supervisor Dean Preston, who is in Vermont with the Maine National Guard providing engineering services in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

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