DOVER-FOXCROFT – State, county and municipal officials focused their attention Monday on a long-term solution to alleviate the overcrowding and cramped space at the District Court building.
The need for more space at the courthouse has been a pressing issue for some time. On court days, the facility overflows with some participants spilling out onto the outside entrance to the building. In addition, the three full-time clerks work from a crackerjack-box size room.
“What we have here is not an acceptable situation, we just don’t have enough space. We need to do something,” James “Ted” Glassner, state court administrator, said at the Monday afternoon session.
Glassner said it was important for the state and county to use the existing space in Superior Court and fix it up to meet the needs. “I would want to give that some serious consideration,” he said.
Toward that end, Piscataquis County Commissioners Eben DeWitt, Woodrouffe “Tony” Bartley and Gordon Andrews were agreeable to a state-funded preliminary architectural study of both the District and Superior Court buildings.
The commissioners, in the past, were reluctant to consider the renovation of the historical Superior Court building. DeWitt said there are some county residents who are not enthusiastic about remodeling the 1860’s building.
The trio had instead leaned toward construction of a new facility on property purchased a couple of years ago by the county for expansion needs.
But the whole project hinges on financing, DeWitt said Monday. “The financing is paramount in my mind,” he said.
Andrews, too, said financing is the big issue considering the 18,000 county residents will ultimately fund any new building or renovation costs.
Glassner said it likely would cost “tens of thousands of dollars” for the renovation compared to “millions of dollars” for new construction. He said the goal “is to keep the clerk’s operation combined and to have a single operation.”
Currently, Lisa Richardson serves the clerk functions of both District and Superior courts. She said Monday that operating two different offices to accommodate both courts is cumbersome. “Whichever office you’re in, you’re in the wrong one,” Richardson said.
Because of the county’s small docket load, Glassner suggested that the Superior Court room could function as both the District and Superior Court rooms. “Why not maximize use of that courtroom,” he said.
To do that, Judge Kevin Stitham suggested the office of deeds could be moved onto a third floor in the Superior Court room with the elevator extended to that floor. The space vacated on the second floor where the Superior Court room is located could be used by the clerk of courts and for associated court needs.
The commissioners learned that new construction or renovation can be funded by the state, although monies for these purposes are limited. In addition, a building can be financed by an investor or constructed and financed by the county.
If an option to address the long-term needs is selected that does not include the use of the Peaks Building, a private residence that was renovated for court purposes in 1976, DeWitt said the building likely would be demolished.
That didn’t set well with Sheriff John Goggin, who said it would be a travesty to tear down the building. He said it could be used as an office building, could house the sheriff’s department or even the Dover-Foxcroft Police Department. “There’s any number of possibilities you could do with this building,” he said.
Those possibilities will be among the issues addressed by the committee over the next few months.
Glassner said that for the architectural study he would require county officials to list the basic needs of their offices. From there, Glassner said, cost estimates could be provided and distributed to the committee at a future meeting.