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Renovations at Penobscot County Courthouse campus near completion

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Penobscot Sheriff Glen Ross and deputy sheriff Seam McCue share a laugh in the new patrolmens area in the former Penobscot courthouse in Bangor on Friday, October 21, 2011.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The sawing and hammering at the historic Penobscot County Courthouse soon will come to a halt after nearly two years of continuous work on the campus.

The total cost for renovations is more than $2 million, including a $450,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Energy and the Energy Efficiency Community Block grant used for energy efficiency upgrades.

All the hammering and banging soon will cease, but the work has made the former court buildings more energy efficient and will benefit Penobscot County and its residents for years to come, according to Commissioner Peter Baldacci of Bangor.

“The court system used that space [at the historic courthouse] for 100 years,” he said in August, when work on the final stage of renovation began. “During that time, we were not able to do major repairs. We wanted to use this opportunity to get done everything we needed to do that will be beneficial for years to come.”

Most administrative offices of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office recently moved into the annex, located behind the 100-year-old courthouse, which formerly was used by the District Attorney’s Office.
Offices for Deputy Chief Troy Morton, detectives, the department’s court officer and their administrative assistants are located in the annex, which is twice the size of their old offices in the jail.

Sheriff Glenn Ross’ office remains in the jail.

Space in the annex was freed up in April when prosecutors moved into renovated space on the second-floor of the courthouse previously occupied by the Superior Court Clerk’s Office and judges.

The annex was gutted, with much of the work being done by jail inmates, Sheriff Ross said Friday. Crews found that the building, built in the 1960s, was not insulated and Sheetrock had been screwed into the brick. Recent renovations included new flooring, ceiling tiles and lights.

“We’ve been pack rats for the last year,” Ross said of his department’s seeking out office furniture and file cabinets for the new space for free or at a discount. “We got filing cabinets from U.S. Probation [and Pre-trial Services] that doubled our storage space and tables.”

The Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building is undergoing major renovations.

The opportunity to rethink how county space previously used by the court system presented itself when the Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street opened in November 2009. That building combined the Superior and District courts, leaving their former homes on Hammond Street vacant.

The Sheriff’s Office also took over two offices in the basement of the courthouse previously used for prosecutors and the victim/witness advocates.

One is being used by the child abuse investigator.

“This office in this location allows families and children to come in privately to talk with the investigator rather than having to come into the jail, which can make people uncomfortable,” Ross said.

The other basement office is being used by patrol deputies who need to complete reports off the road. It is about three times the size of their previous office, the sheriff said.

Recent renovations to the jail have included enclosing the outside recreation area so it can be used year-round and major roof repairs. Since the consolidation of the county jails with the state Department of Corrections, the jail budget has been separated from the county budget.
Funds for repairs came from the Designated Fund Balance for the jail.

An office inside the jail was converted to a video conference room so inmates don’t have to be transferred to the judicial center for first appearances.

The office for Volunteers of America, which offers a supervised release program that monitors defendants who are out on bail, soon will move into the jail, Ross said. Their office now is in the basement of the former District Court building, which faces Franklin Street.

Costs for renovations Penobscot County buildings

Historic Courthouse $500,000

Former District Court $450,000

(to be recouped in rent over four years)

Annex $50,000

Jail $325,000

Energy upgrades in all buildings $750,000

($450,000 received in federal grant)

TOTAL $2,075,000

Source: Penobscot County Treasurer’s Office

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