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Courthouse slog

If we were writing the story of the Franklin County Courthouse reconstruction project, it would be classified as science fiction. That’s because this particular effort seems to be operating in some sort of alternative universe where time and efficiency never merge.

In reality, however, the delays we’ve been seeing can only add to the multimillion-dollar bottom line.

We can certainly understand how the county’s residents have become numb to the project and its lack of progress.

A modern courthouse — one that meets the needs of those working there and of anyone conducting business — has been an issue for more than a dozen years. During that time there have been models based upon new visions for the legal system, building from the ground up away from downtown and different takes on renovation and reconstruction. And over those same years, there have been all kinds of conversations with legislators and various state department officials about the financial process and protocol in getting a courthouse project in the pipeline.

Not quite four years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick’s endorsement of a courthouse project seemed to put the work on a new footing. Even since then, though, the project hasn’t been setting any speed records, not with the amount of pre-construction investigation, redesigns and the state government and legislative processes that result in locking in the money.

And we have to recognize the politics, both private and public, that hold sway on any kind of project involving the state.

Still, a few months ago there were reasons to be optimistic. The state was announcing where the various courthouse operations would be temporarily housed during the reconstruction work, leading to the thinking that the hurdles had been removed and it was just a short matter of time before the public saw work get underway.

But apparently those timetables were something of a mirage.

As the public learned in Tuesday’s Recorder story, the state has not even signed a lease for the temporary courthouse space. “Space design and other negotiations took longer than anticipated, but the renovations will start this spring ...” said a written response from the state Trial Court system.

As much as Franklin County wants to move forward here, this project just gets snagged and snagged again.

We agree that everyone wants to get such projects right. But there has to be self-evaluation on the state’s part to see what can be done to improve its internal processes.

We think, therefore, that the legislation state Rep. Stephen Kulik is thinking about would be a solid step. Modeled after the legislation involving school projects, it would make state agencies more accountable when it came to costs and a timetable.

In the meantime, the county — and the judges, and clerks, and jurors, and police officers, and attorneys, and prosecutors, and defendants, and court officers and victims, and the public (who are paying for all of this) will continue to wait.

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