Temporary courthouse secure, roomy
Superior court room with John Merrigan and Travis P Ward of Development Associates. Judge's bench in the rear and jury box at left. Defendant and prosecurotr tables had not been installed yet. Recorder/Paul Franz
Combined clerical offices for the Greenfield District and Franklin County Superior courts . Recorder/Paul Franz
Main entrance for courthouse will be on the south side of the Greenfield Corporate Center office building. All other businesses in the building will use other enterances. Recorder/Paul Franz
Conference room for prisoners and their lawyers, who confer through the window and mesh screen. (Recorder/Paul Franz)
Probate Court Register John Merrigan stands near two of eight holding cells. In the old courthouse, there is one makeshift holding cell. (Recorder/Paul Franz)
A holding cell, equipped for the handicapped.
The courthouse Law Library, still under construction earlier this month. (Recorder/Paul Franz)
A padded cell, one of eight detention rooms, is for extremely disturbed prisoners who might try to harm themselves. (Recorder/Paul Franz)
It’s only temporary, so it’s probably good to not get too attached to the Franklin County Courthouse’s makeshift quarters over the next three to five years, while the state moves forward with $60 million in renovations to its nearly 70-year-old building on Main Street.
But the 50,000-square-foot temporary court facilities at Munson Street’s Greenfield Corporate Center that’s scheduled to open for business as of Feb. 18 will definitely be an improvement over the existing courthouse. Many parts of the carpeted space are light and airy, and it’s roomier, with security features that are light-years ahead of the existing courthouse.
The differences, in fact, are reminiscent of those between the 1886 Franklin County Jail — which former Sheriff Frederick Macdonald used to call “the old sneaker,” and the Elm Street correctional facility built to replace it in 2006.
Court staff are preparing to move at the end of the business day on Valentine’s Day, with the move continuing through the holiday weekend for courts and offices to open Feb. 18 with no disruption in service. Then, renovation and expansion begin at the old courthouse with a six-month demolition period, beginning with removal of asbestos and lead tentatively slated to begin around March 1. It will begin a 30-month construction period during which the building’s Main Street facade will remain intact but the rear portion of the building will be replaced to create a 104,000-square-foot structure that will include the juvenile court, now housed in rented space elsewhere on Main Street. That $60 million project, to be built by Whiting Turner Construction Co., is planned to be substantially completed by the fall of 2016.
Security may have been an add-on to the Depression-era building when the state took over the court system from the counties in the 1980s, but it’s integral at the corporate center.
All court visitors will pass through security screening on the south end of the main building and enter a secure section of the 125,000-square-foot business complex, with a nearby parking lot designated for court use.
Here it’s not the 1930s anymore, so closed-circuit video cameras and card-controlled access points are the norm.
Contrasted with the classic feel of the grand old courthouse, with its marble walls, granite floors, dimly fluorescent-lit hallways and hanging courtroom light fixtures, there’s a vast, if business-efficient, feel to the new quarters.
In addition to a light, airy 4,500-square-foot space that’s carpeted throughout to absorb noise, visitors will notice more dedicated consultation areas away from busy hallways, and more consolidation of functions. For example, a combined clerk’s office for district and superior courts is near the entrance area, with a dedicated area for domestic violence complaints and a shared cashier’s booth for all fines and payments. The large office, with some seating available, has computers available for looking up cases. Across the main entrance way is a combined probation office for district and superior court cases.
An elevator and stairway are dedicated for public use to access the second-floor courtrooms and probate registry, or the district attorney suite, probate court, probation and law library.
The second floor has a superior court, a probate court and separate district courtrooms for jury trials and for arraignments.
During a visit last week, as inmates delivered dozens of wooden benches from Correctional Industries and some of the workers from roughly 25 trades installed equipment and readied for arrival of files and furnishings and newly acclimated staffers, there were plans to hang directional signs at key intersections to minimize visitor bewilderment.
The upper floor also has a dedicated waiting room for prospective jurors as well as a deliberation and waiting room for seated jurors, each with its own restrooms. And whereas the existing courthouse has a makeshift area on the second floor, with acoustic dividers, the courthouse’s temporary home is equipped with four, 10-by-10-foot conference rooms for lawyers to confer with clients.
The courtrooms, with pastel yellow or blue walls, are equipped with light birch dividers to separate public seating, and with acoustic carpeting and sound equipment to allow for better hearing of the proceedings. The biggest difference visitors will notice in the arraignment courtroom is a prisoner dock, where suspects in police custody are isolated and guarded during arraignment from the public gallery behind a waist-high counter and window with visual access to the judge and court proceedings.
Along with a protected visitation room with protective glass and a screen for visits between attorneys and their incarcerated clients, the floor also has two holding cells for jailed defendants while awaiting court proceedings, although the main holding area is the basement, with prisoners transported in a secure elevator. The downstairs area, with a central control desk at its core, has five larger holding cells, each equipped with a remote-controlled toilet.
There is also a single, padded cell — a $30,000 “rubber room” built in Oklahoma and assembled over five days by workers brought in from Florida — the existence of which testifies to the fact that even though these facilities are expected to last three to five years, the dedication to security and meeting the most severe needs of building users is being taken seriously.
The state’s $1.7 million-a-year lease for the space in the building originally occupied by Phoenix Insurance Co. paid for several million dollars’ worth of the building, which had to be entirely gutted to install the secure elevator and cells made with three-quarter-inch plywood, heavy-duty diamond-plate steel mesh and concrete-reinforced wallboard.
Those security features — a sharp contrast with the 83-year-old building with a single holding cell in a former storage area and a system for escorting prisoners in through glass side doors from Hope Street and past the public waiting on benches in crowded hallways — also includes a dedicated, secure drive-in prisoner entrance with 10-foot-high, electronically controlled fences.
It also includes a separate elevator and hallways for judges, who share a suite of five second-floor offices, and a basement area set aside for the district attorney, along with a grand jury room and conference room and protected victim-witness waiting area.
Also in the basement, and accessible to the public, is the probate department’s probation area, with drug-testing facilities, and law library that includes public access computers as well as a new court service center for people serving as their own attorneys.
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You can reach Richie Davis at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269