DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Court was back in session at the Piscataquis County Courthouse on Monday.
The second phase of a $5 million bonded project was completed on Friday with the Dover-Foxcroft District Court, the Piscataquis County Superior Court and the clerk’s office moving from the district courthouse next door to the county courthouse.
The building will be used by both the Superior and District courts, which will share staff. There is one clerk’s office for both courts.
A new addition was added next to the original building, which was built in 1838. This was the first major renovation and addition to the building since the 1970s. The project began last May.
“It’s not picture-perfect, but we’re here, we’re open and we’re working,” said Jeff Henthorn, director of court facilities for the judicial branch.
The big courtroom, which is part of the original building, held arraignments on Monday. Everything seemed complete except that three walls still needed to be wallpapered.
“It’s a four-day process [to wallpaper the walls] and we made the decision that we didn’t need it to open,” said Henthorn.
A new, smaller courtroom sits next to the old courtroom. Once a slate bench surface is installed later this week, the room will be ready for use.
Aside from the courtrooms, new elevators, conference rooms and a new clerk’s office were added, said Henthorn. The lobby is also much bigger than the lobby in the former district courthouse, known as the Peaks House.
Henthorn said one of the major improvements of the renovated building was keeping prisoners, building staff, jurors and the public separated.
“We didn’t use to have a circulation zone,” he said. “Now there’s a door where the prisoners come into the building and into a controlled area. We didn’t have that before. They came in and used public entrances and public exits. It was a major flaw we had before.”
He added that the old public elevator is now the prisoner elevator. A new public elevator was constructed.
Technology also has been improved.
“Both courtrooms have video capability so that we can have conferences from a location when we do an arraignment,” said Henthorn.
Card readers also have been added for more security.
The Peaks House also will be renovated, but only slightly, said Henthorn. The county commissioners and administrator will use the building when it’s finished.
The Peaks House, which used to be a residential building, was used for District Court while the previous phases of construction were under way.
“Very cramped — very, very tight space,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that anybody could do work there, but they did.”
The third phase of construction, which includes renovating the first floor of the county courthouse and renovating the Peaks House, will begin soon. Henthorn said the project should be completed by mid-April.
Even with all the improvements, Henthorn said the project should come in under budget.
“We should be a couple hundred thousand under,” said Henthorn. “There are still things popping in the air. I haven’t had time to calculate the numbers.”