BELFAST, Maine — The state is showing off its new designs for Waldo County’s $17 million courthouse, drawing a sigh of relief from some in town.
Early on in the planning process, the Maine Judicial Branch released a conceptual drawing of a building that was only meant to reflect the rough size and scale of the facility, not its final appearance. But when the image was published in newspapers, it caused a bit of a stir.
Several city councilors said they received calls and emails from residents upset over the possibility of a blocky administrative-looking building showing up in the city’s downtown, amid historic brick structures. The state responded by saying it was only just beginning to work with architects on the building’s design.
Months later, during a Belfast Planning Board meeting Wednesday night, Jeff Henthorn, director of facilities for the judicial branch, displayed a final rendering that brings to mind other historic buildings in Belfast. Namely, the brick construction and tall pillars seen in the new design resemble the architecture of the former Crosby School, which is in the midst of a redevelopment, and Waldo County General Hospital.
“I think it fits with what we have and looks acceptable to me,” said Belfast Councilor Mike Hurley. “I was only hoping not to hate it and I don’t. I’m looking forward to it and lots of trees around it.”
The judicial branch has been pushing to consolidate courts and replace aging courthouse buildings in counties across the state in an effort to run them more efficiently and cut costs long term for such expenses as heat and electricity. In recent years, the state has modernized courts in Bangor, Augusta, Houlton, Dover-Foxcroft and Machias.
The county owns the existing court buildings. County officials have said they’re tight on space and could use the extra room.
“We’ll move out of those spaces, and it would allow the county to use them in any way they wish,” Henthorn said.
The 37,000-square-foot courthouse will have about 40 parking spaces, plus about 20 more reserved for employees in a separate lot. Judges will have a parking area under cover. Currently, the Superior Court doesn’t have any dedicated parking and the District Court has just a few spaces on the street out front, leaving the bulk of jurors, lawyers and visitors having to find on street parking or to park in one of a few public lots scattered around downtown.
The courthouse will have a sally port entrance so people in custody arriving for court dates can be driven in and walked directly upstairs to the courtroom without encountering any members of the public or jurors.
Demolition of other buildings on site, including a garage, home, and a small office is expected to start in September but there has been some talk of people wanting to save the 190-year-old home on Market Street by moving it. The state says it’s willing to work out a deal if someone steps forward in time with the resources and a plan to move the structure.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.