AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph Jabar on Thursday peered out the window of his future office on the fourth floor of the $55 million Capital Judicial Center at downtown Augusta and the Kennebec River, which splits the city.
“I grew up in Waterville between the tracks and the Kennebec,” he said. “This is a long way from there.”
It is for the man, personally, and the state court system he and the other six justices on the high court oversee. Maine’s supreme court is the only one in the nation that rules on the law and administers the day-to-day operations of the more than 40 courthouses and administrative offices throughout the state.
It is the second major construction project the system has tackled over the past seven years. The $36.4 million Penobscot Judicial Center combined the former Bangor District Court and Penobscot County Superior Court, both previously located on Hammond Street. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held on Sept. 21, 2007, and the building opened on Nov. 23, 2009.
The new, 120,000-square-foot courthouse in Augusta is expected to be completed Dec. 24, according to Philip Johnston, project manager. The building is scheduled to open to the public March 1 after a gradual move-in. Ground was broken two years ago on the Augusta project.
The building will combine the District, Family and Superior courts and their clerks’ offices, now housed in three different buildings in Augusta, under one roof, Jabar said Thursday. The new courthouse will be connected via walkways to the Kennebec County Courthouse, where the large “historic” courtroom will be retrofitted for use by the Law Court once or twice a year and ceremonial functions.
There will be full-time entry screening, a combined clerks office, six courtrooms, nine chambers for judges including two offices for supreme court justices, conference rooms, and storage space for appeals of decisions made by state agencies such as the Maine Department of Environment Protection, all of which must be filed in the Superior Court in Augusta.
The largest courtroom on the first floor will hold 150 people, while the smaller ones on the second and third floors will seat 50, Jabar said. All will be equipped for teleconferencing and the presentation of electronic equipment.
“Like in Bangor, the public, the staff and people in custody will not be mingling in the same space,” he said. “We also will have a modern security system with cameras in all courtrooms, prisoner and most public areas.”
Much of the outside of the building that faces downtown Augusta will be glass and allow people waiting for court hearings to see the same view Jabar will glimpse out his office windows, according to Johnston.
The judiciary also will spend $2 million on upgrades to what is now Superior Court in the Kennebec County Courthouse, including the installation of a sprinkler system for fire safety. The courthouse was built in 1830, 10 years after Maine became a state and more than 40 years after the county was formed.
More than 40 workers in the judiciary’s IT department, family division and judicial marshal service will move from a Stone Street house left to the court and rented spaced to the new building, according to Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the courts.
The judiciary reportedly will save more than $145,000 a year in rent and other expenses.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that there are more than 50 courthouses throughout the state.