Right on schedule: New Franklin County Courthouse’s due date doesn’t appear to be late

Last modified: 2/4/2016 5:22:28 PM
GREENFIELD — By this time next year, the Franklin County Courthouse should be open for business downtown.

That’s right on schedule, according to state officials, although some had feared that its completion might be delayed until early in 2017.

The $60 million project includes a thorough interior gutting and renovation of the 1935 courthouse facade with a new 104,000-square-foot, three-story addition built over what had been its “el” wing and parking lot.

Interior finishes need to be completed, along with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Landscaping work is scheduled for next spring.

A year ago, crews for Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. were working late into the night and overtime to complete masonry work before the onset of winter weather to keep the project on schedule.

“Everybody’s looking forward to having more space,” said Franklin County Clerk of Courts Susan Emond, who was among a group of local officials who met with court administrators last week — but were unable to join the Boston visitors in touring the construction site because there simply weren’t enough hard hats. “What could possibly be negative about a brand new building with lots of space?”

The downside, though, could be parking, since without a parking garage for the downtown, and with much of the former courthouse parking gone, she said, it appears there won’t be spaces available for courthouse staff.

Without additional parking, “It’s going to be a nightmare on every street in this neighborhood,” said Franklin County Register of Deeds Scott Cote, who isn’t sure whether the registry will be moving back to the new courthouse from temporary leased space on Olive Street.

After the town was denied state funding this fall to build a parking garage, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, called a meeting in Boston Tuesday afternoon with Greenfield Mayor William Martin, Franklin County Register John Merrigan and representatives from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, Trial Court and Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. Martin reported the meeting established 9 to 11 steps for the town to take toward a new application out of the regular cycle in January.

The town was rejected this fall for a $2.5 million MassWorks grant to build a roughly 300-space parking garage on Olive Street, and Martin has said Greenfield needs state funding to pay for about 75 percent of the $10 million project. The rest, he added, could come from town borrowing that could be repaid with parking revenues.

Plans have been for a three- or four-level garage.

More than a year ago, Greenfield was turned down when it asked for $9 million for the project.

Deeds registry and more

Cote said Secretary of State William Galvin, whose budget provides for the local registries, has planned for the Greenfield registry to move from its 2,850-square-foot temporary space to 1,700 square feet in the new building, along with about 500 square feet in another part of the building that Cote described as “completely useless.”

“There’s an internal fight between the Trial Court and the Secretary of State’s office, and unfortunately, Franklin County’s right in the middle of it,” said Cote. “We’re pushing absolutely as hard as we can to make it work.”

Cote said his temporary quarters, which are clean with adequate parking and security that doesn’t require everyone to go through the kind of checkpoints they will face in the new courthouse, has as its only “minor inconvenience” the fact that anyone searching titles in probate registry that date back more than 35 years needs to do so in the courthouse.

“I think it will be a great resource for the whole downtown and the whole county,” said Merrigan, a former state legislator who advocated for the new courthouse to replace the overcrowded Depression-era building built by the county when space needs were different, grandeur trumped energy efficiency and security requirements were few.

The new courthouse will include a court service center to help lay-people involved in court cases help navigate the system, which Merrigan said harkens back to the original vision of the courthouse as a community justice center to foster collaboration with human service organizations.

“It was probably 30 years before any of us were involved with this project, when county officials were lobbying to have it on the radar,” said Merrigan. “I think a lot our elders are happy to see it, a lot of judges encouraging us as new faces a dozen years ago to push the project. They didn’t envision a court service center, right inside when you enter the building.”

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.

The new courthouse will also include separate hallways and elevators for defendants in custody, employees, jurors and the public, as well as holding cells and a drive-in “sally port” to securely transport prisoners.

And it will house conference rooms will give lawyers and clients a private place to meet.

“I recently visited the new courthouse in Greenfield and was stunned by what a handsome and dramatic building it will be,” said Court Administrator Harry Spence of the state Trial Court. “The courthouse will serve as an important civic presence in downtown Greenfield, and a dramatic and dignified setting for the delivery of justice. The Judiciary is proud to make such a significant contribution to the civic life of the Greenfield community.”

You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269


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