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Courthouse move delayed

Registry may be ready by mid-April

The $60 million Franklin County Courthouse reconstruction project, which some officials had hoped to begin early this spring, has been pushed back to late in the year.

Although some preparations for renovations at temporary courthouse quarters on Munson Street have begun, a contract for that 46,000 square feet of space, at the Greenfield Corporate Center, have not even been signed yet, nearly six months after the state announced where most court operations would be housed for the three to five years expected for renovations.

“It’s been a long time coming, and it seems to be bogged down now,” said Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, after talking with Franklin County Probate Court Clerk John F. Merrigan, a former state representative who has been instrumental in moving the long-delayed project forward. “It’s been John’s observation that there’s something wrong with the system here that doesn’t move these projects ahead as quickly as possible, and they should move quickly once a decision is made, because time is money. They can definitely cost more if it’s delayed.”

The courthouse, built in 1935, would be expanded from about 44,000 to 104,000 square feet, with a three-story addition on its southern end.

The move will likely take place “towards the end of the year,” according to Kenneth Vencunas, the major partner of the Greenfield Corporate Center. Although he wouldn’t specify exactly when that might be, Vencunas rejected the notion that it would be ready in August, responding instead, “beyond August.”

While Vencunas said he hadn’t yet signed a lease for the space agreed upon last fall, he denied that there had been any delays.

“Everything is on track,” he said. “It’s a major process and we just want to get it right. We want to make sure everything is in place. I expect we’ll sign a lease very soon, and then we’ll be ready to go immediately. It’s just a thorough process.”

Inquiries to officials at the state Trial Court system resulted in a terse written response Monday from spokeswoman Joan Kenney: “The lease for the temporary Greenfield courthouse site is expected to be signed this week by the Trial Court and the Division of Capital Asset Management. Space design and other negotiations took longer than anticipated, but the renovations will start this spring and the project is expected to be completed in the fall.”

Other state sources, however, said that a lease will be signed in coming weeks.

The lease for the Munson Street space will total $1.7 million a year, according to state officials.

The Franklin County Registry of Deeds, however, is preparing to move to its new temporary quarters at 30 Hope St. sometime in April, according to Register Scott A. Cote.

Cote said that with structural work scheduled to be finished there on the 2,800-square-foot space, the only delay remaining seems to be school vacation week and its possible effect on contractors.

The plan is to get the new registry, a three-to-five-year temporary space that’s about 65 percent of the current 4,300-square-foot registry, entirely set up with telephones, computers and other equipment “ready to go” so that the operation can move over a weekend and resume in its new location the following Monday — likely April 22 or 29, Cote said.

The plan is for the registry to eventually return to the courthouse, Cote said, although there are still discrepancies between the roughly 1,700-square-foot area that’s been allocated and the space that’s actually needed.

Even that represents some delays in signing a lease for temporary space, says Cote, who was told when he assumed office in January to be prepared to move within 10 days.

Still, Kulik said he is looking at filing legislation, modeled after a measure put in place after delays with Greenfield middle school renovations six or seven years ago, that could make state agencies more accountable for construction projects and keep them on track.

“We’re starting to look at doing something legislatively, creating a template for courthouse construction projects so they don’t bog down in these delays, to keep projects moving forward,” he said. “I’m hoping we can set up maybe a more formal process that would be quicker.”

The new courthouse, with an October 2016 completion date listed on the website of the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, will house all five court department operations, the Law Library and the Registry of Deeds in one “modern, secure, code compliant public building,” according to the site, and replace the leased Main Street juvenile and housing court facilities.

It’s far smaller than the 162,000-square-foot “community justice center” that was contemplated in 2000, with a projected price tag at the time of $34 million. That project, which became mired in disagreements about its size and lack of provisions for parking, was resurrected as part of a 2008 state bond and scaled down in size.

The current project stalled delayed last year because over negotiations for lease of temporary court space.

On the Web: http://1.usa.gov/YQ07Ko

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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