County facility renovation project moves forward

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FARMINGTON – County Commissioners approved moving ahead with an overhaul of the county’s facilities today, including the beginning of discussions with the state on funding the project.

Smith Reuter Lull Architects of Lewiston, have produced some preliminary floor plans for a renovated Franklin County Courthouse. That building, which would house the probate and superior courtroom, would be connected to a newly constructed annex by a corridor, which would double as the main entrance. The annex would contain the Farmington district courtroom, district attorney’s office, the family courtroom and the registry of deeds, as well as an adjoining office.

The Franklin County Courthouse in Farmington.

Architect Noel Smith noted that the plan represented the “culmination of a process,” after several meetings between the building committee, commissioners and county personnel. The plan keeps probate research material and the registry of deeds in downtown Farmington, as well as keeping the aging county courthouse building in use.

Commissioners hope that the state will help pay and/or maintain the facility. The state has been pushing for consolidated court facilities whenever possible and has expressed interest in the proposal.

“A real breakthrough was the state’s interest in consolidating court services,” Lull said. “It could possibly take the burden of sole maintenance of this project off the county books.”

“I could not consider a site like this,” Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon said, “without the indulgence of the state of Maine.”

The plans are only in the early stages, and exact schematics for new electrical, heating and plumbing systems are still being developed. Parking, for instance, remains up in the air. The annex would likely displace parking toward the rear of the courthouse.

“The devil is in the details,” Lull said, “and there’s a lot of details here that need to be looked at.”

Generally however, the building committee is in support of the proposal.

Commissioners gave their approval for discussions with the state over how to fund the courthouse facility to begin, as well as planning to go forward for a new building on the Franklin County Jail site for the dispatchers. The need to have a secure and more expansive space for dispatch actually prompted the county facility overhaul in the first place, and commissioners and Sheriff Dennis Pike are eager to see work in that direction progress.

Smith Reuter Lull are currently proposing have Franklin County Emergency Management Agency personnel and the county administration work off of the jail site, along with dispatch. The exact configuration has not been released at this time, but Lull did say that his firm did have some ideas.

Farmington Police Department’s own need for space may still fit into the county’s plans, possibly with a joint facility on the jail site. Town Manager Richard Davis told commissioners that the board of selectmen had instructed him to form a committee to look into what options Farmington has. Even if it did not join the county at the jail site, Davis said, the department needed more space soon.

“At some point the train is going to leave the station,” Davis said, “and it may be two different trains on two different tracks.”

The county has currently paid $25,550 to Smith Reuter Lull for their work on the courthouse study of the project, a part which Lull said is approaching its conclusion as plans firm up. The exact amount of money remaining for the project’s planning phase will be determined at the next commissioners meeting.

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