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State picks Belfast site for $17 million courthouse

By Ethan Andrews | Dec 01, 2016
Photo by: Ethan Andrews A Church Street property that is currently home to Duval Auto Service, foreground, is likely to become the site for new $17 million Waldo County courthouse. The building would replace the 1853 Superior Court, left, and District Court buildings.

Belfast — A new $17 million courthouse building that will combine Waldo County's Superior and District courts under one roof is slated to be constructed on the site of an auto garage near the historic Waldo County Superior Courthouse building.

The state has signed purchase and sale agreements with the owners of both Duval Auto Service and a single family house behind the garage on Market Street, according to Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for Maine's judicial branch.

The properties cover a combined 1.1 acres, which is significantly smaller than the 1.75 acres the state originally sought for the unified courthouse complex. City officials previously floated the idea of permanently closing a section of Market Street if the state wanted to expand the existing Superior Court building, but Lynch said the state does not need more land than it now has under contract.

"We had hoped to buy one more parcel, but we were not able to," she said. "We are satisfied we can build what we need on the site. We wish we could have more parking, but we thought it was important to stay in the downtown Belfast area."

Lynch said the overall size of the new building will be 30,000 square feet as originally proposed, but many of the other design details hinge upon the actual site. The state has hired North Peak Architecture of Presque Isle to design the building. Lynch estimated it would take five to six months with a goal of breaking ground by summer 2017.

Conceptual plans of the building show a modern two-story structure with a partial basement excavated into the hillside. Lynch said a parking lot had to be reeled in from a planned 84 spaces to 58.

"Which is definitely an improvement over what Belfast currently has," she said, adding there are no specifically designated parking areas for either court at present.

The new courthouse would replace the 1853 Superior Court, which stands diagonally across from the new building site, and the District Court two blocks to the south on Church Street, which was built in 1930 and expanded in 1987.

The existing court buildings, both of which are owned by the county, had become cramped, according to the state, and were not up to modern electrical and mechanical codes, or handicapped accessibility standards. In addition to fixing those problems, the new building is expected to incorporate modern security features including separate walking routes for judicial staff, incarcerated defendants, jurors and the public.

Lynch said she does not know the amount the state plans to pay for the properties. A preliminary budget for the courthouse project set aside $1.5 million for land. The auto garage, owned by Clint and Lynn Duval of Belfast, most recently was assessed by the city at $555,500. The Market Street house, owned by Thomas Riley Andersen of Buffalo, N.Y., was assessed at $140,000.

Lynch said a closing will happen sometime after the first of the year. She said state officials looked at other locations over the last six months with a goal of staying near the center of Belfast.

"And we're glad that that's turned out to be possible," she said. "We were very committed to staying in the downtown area."

A conceptual drawing of the new combined Waldo County courthouse in Belfast. Plans based on the actual site will be drafted over the next six months. (Source: Maine Judicial Branch)
A map of a portion of downtown Belfast showing the locations of the current District and Superior courthouses, and land that state is in the process of buying for a new combined courthouse building.
(Source: Maine Judicial Branch)
(Source: Maine Judicial Branch)
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Comments (8)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Dec 07, 2016 19:00

Thank you so much for clarifying Mr Harkness.  :-)

 



Posted by: Neal Harkness | Dec 07, 2016 14:08

The city has been in touch with the architect who will be designing the building, and we have been assured that the published drawings are generic illustrations and should not be considered any indication of what the building will look like.

My understanding of the process is that the state has a system of rotation among the counties as to who is eligible for a new courthouse, and when. One factor in the determination is that there are post 9-11 security requirements that  our current courthouses do not meet. The decision as to the purchase of land and building design is made by a panel, made up of 3 judges. How the particular judges are chosen for that role, I do not know.

The city has a great deal of control over downtown development through the Planning Board and the Downtown Design Board, but it is unclear whether or not the state (By which I mean the panel of judges) can override the decisions of those boards, and we will be seeking clarification of that issue. We are optimistic that the architectural character of the town will be an important factor in the planning.

 



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Dec 05, 2016 20:46

I am very sorry Mr Harkness.  I was under the impression the three photos Ethan Andrews published were the design from the Judicial Branch.

Mr Harkness, can you help me understand the input that the City of Belfast.  Plus who is the "State" and "their" liking?  Is it a single person making that call or is it an entire panel?  I just find it hard to believe the district court building has exceeded it's life span.  I understand the need to replace the Superior Court building however the district court building doesn't on it's face have a "need" to be replaced.

I suppose though our high taxed income would be better spent in Waldo county vs in another county.  To bad the State didn't just cut a few more taxes and only replace what is "needed" vs "wanted".  How foolish of us to think our tax dollars would be spent judiciously. So if it is a matter of spend it here or spend it there and loose it then build it and they will come!



Posted by: Neal Harkness | Dec 05, 2016 14:17

Mr. Hall, the City has limited input into the matter, this is an arrangement between the state, the county and the private landowners. I will tell you that the state considered Crosby School, at least as a site, if not the building itself, and decided it was not to their liking. Also, the city has been informed that the architectural firm retained by the state has not even begun any actual work on the design, and so concerns about the building's appearance, while understandable, are premature.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Dec 05, 2016 11:23

Did the State consider the old Crosby School as a site?  The existing building is 8000 sq ft more then the State was building, however and the lot has more available parking from a quick comparisons of the two sites.  Could 17 million get rid of the mold and renovate the building to get the State what they need?

 

Would the City of Belfast want that site developed over the other parcel?  Is it a political decision?



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Dec 05, 2016 11:16

I can just see it now.......People walking in and getting the tour across the street at the historical museum with the curator or tour director saying "pay no attention to the history that Belfast is abandoning moving the beautiful brick facades into precast cement formed building!"



Posted by: Patricia Keyes | Dec 03, 2016 13:20

Everything about this is wrong for Belfast. It's not in any way contributing architecturally to the surroundings. It's crammed up against private homes. It's not even brick-colored or brick-textured to blend in with the surrounding antique neighborhood! Parking is indeed an issue already. There's land out just beyond DairyQueen or even a little further down Rt 3, which would be far more adequate. And land out there would allow for a regular JAIL which we are in far more desperate need of. Putting a 20 cell jail in the same building with the courthouse would not only streamline hearings that are now delayed BY MONTHS, but end the need for PAYING OUR POLICE to DRIVE unconvicted people to facilities far outside our community, which makes coordination with lawyers and family members extremely difficult.  This is a poorly thought out and near-sighted project.

 



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Dec 01, 2016 18:47

Soil tests???



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