April 05, 2020

Officials updated on courthouse plan

HOULTON – Five days a week, the first two floors of the Aroostook County Superior Court building are bustling with activity.

The third floor, however, is a different story.

It sits largely unused, except for a segment that serves as a weight room for the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department. Dust lingers on old tables and chairs that are stored there, the wooden floor is scarred and faded, and the elevator is out of service.

But all of that could change if the county goes forward with a long-range plan to permanently move the Houlton District Court offices across the street to the Aroostook County Superior Court building.

The plan, which was first discussed more than a year ago, remains ongoing, Aroostook County Administrator Doug Beaulieu said earlier this week.

Beaulieu updated county commissioners on the status of the consolidation project during a meeting Wednesday evening.

The administrator told the board that State Court Administrator Ted Glessner and other court officials were supportive of consolidation.

“They are going to request some money for our courthouse consolidation and others in the next biennial budget,” Beaulieu said. “He [Glessner] wanted me to know that they’re serious about this and they want to pursue some money for it through the next biennial budget process.”

If the courthouses were consolidated, the move would save taxpayers $85,000 to $100,000 a year, because the courts would no longer have to pay rent on the District Court building or keep it maintained.

The savings would be passed on to the more than 50 municipalities that make up Aroostook County.

Discussions about the idea have been under way with court administrators since late 2004, after a pipe burst in the District Court building and forced the staff to work out of Superior Court.

The staff have continued working out of the Superior Court structure ever since.

Plans call for the county to return the District Court building to the town of Houlton after it is vacated. The town turned the building over to the county in 1973. If returned, the town officials would have a chance to sell it at fair market value.

Last year, an architect was hired to develop a preliminary floor plan for consolidating all of the court offices into one building.

Officials are considering renovating the second floor of the Superior Court building and adding a second courtroom. They have speculated that the law library would be relocated to the third floor.

All features of the building would be configured to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Once under way, the project is estimated to cost $350,000 to $500,000.

The county will not incur any costs as a result of the consolidation, as costs attributed to the changes would be paid by the court system.

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