February 26, 2020

Officials seek solution for crowded courthouse

MACHIAS – The county courthouse is bulging with people.

And there aren’t a lot of rooms to handle the daily business that takes place there.

Right now the courthouse is home to District and Superior courts, the Washington County Commission, county deeds and probate, and the Regional Communication Center. The RCC is in the basement along with the registrar of deeds office.

With the increase in demands on the structure, county officials are looking at ways for more efficient uses of the building.

The red-brick courthouse was built in 1853, the abutting jail five years later. Renovations at the jail that included expanding the numbers of cells were completed in 1988, at a cost of $3 million, but more room is needed in the courthouse.

County manager Linda Pagels said earlier this week that the county commissioners recently talked about sharing the district courtroom with the judiciary.

Now the commissioners have their own hearing room, but often that is standing room only. “So I suggested moving my office into the commissioners’ office and then hope to use the courtroom for the commission meetings,” she said.

That would allow three rooms for the commission staff. The move also would allow for a small conference room. “There would be a small waiting area and [room for] a clerk and secretary,” she said.

She said she planned to contact state officials, about the possible shared usage of the courtroom.

District Court usually ends around 4 p.m., while the commissioners start their meetings after that.

Pagels said state officials also were looking to build on to the back of the structure. That would push the courthouse into the parking lot. The recommendation is to then buy up nearby houses to build a new parking lot.

“There is a bill in the Legislature that links Machias with Augusta. They have two feasibility studies. They hope by packaging that together that that will go through, so we would be looking at construction starting two years from now,” Pagels said.

But for now, county officials have to solve space problems in the courthouse. Now the Superior and District courts staff have half of the first floor. The county commissioners and registrar of probate share the other side. The Superior Court room is located on the second floor.

Correction: This article ran on page C3 in the State edition.

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