VIDEO: Franklin County Justice Center gets final inspection; Feb. 6 opening still planned

  • The name of the renovated Franklin County courthouse has been changed to Franklin County Justice Center to better reflect the variety of services available. Recorder Staff/Paul FranZ

  • Officials tour the new front lobby in the Franklin County Justice Center on Hope Street in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Franklin County Justice Center Law Library. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rep Paul Mark, D-Peru, takes a selfie outside of the new Franklin County Justice Center after a tour. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • District and Superior Probation are located in the old part of the courthouse, where the old ornate light fixtures were cleaned and re-used. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Franklin County Justice Center jury pool room has monitors and views to entertain potential jurors. Recorder Staff/Paul FranZ

  • The $66 million project, planned for more than a decade, included reconstruction of the grand 1931 brick-facade Franklin County Courthouse and a four-story glass-accented addition over what had been the original building’s southern leg and rear parking lot. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The secure sally port entrance for the safe transportation of people in custody. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Franklin County Justice Center District Courtroom, which is one of six new courtrooms. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/27/2017 9:47:53 PM

GREENFIELD — The new, 104,000-square-foot Franklin County Justice Center got a final inspection Friday by about a dozen state and town officials, in preparation for its planned Feb. 6 opening.

An April 7 grand opening ceremony for the public is planned, with Gov. Charlie Baker among the invited guests. A formal announcement is expected by CJ Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence within the next week or so.

The $66 million project, planned for more than a decade, included reconstruction of the grand 1931 brick-facade Franklin County Courthouse and a four-story glass-accented addition over what had been the original building’s southern leg and rear parking lot.

The three-year construction project, completed nearly on schedule, began with emptying the building in February 2014, with most court functions and about 100 staff moving to 50,000 square feet of temporary space at the Greenfield Corporate Center at a cost of $1.7 million a year. Construction began that April with asbestos removal and demolition of the southern leg along Hope Street.

The return downtown of those workers, with what Clerk of Probate John Merrigan estimated as an $8 million payroll, is being hailed as a potential economic boon, despite concerns about parking.

“People are excited,” said Merrigan, who was among the primary advocates for the project. “It’s a good thing. I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of investment in a new building in this area.”

“This is definitely a boon for downtown,” said Liz Fisk of the Greenfield Business Association, who, like Merrigan, Mayor William Martin and others, toured the new justice center on Friday.

Main entrance

Visitors entering the Hope Street entrance are greeted by a bright, three-story orange wall in the atrium as they pass through the security area and approach a gray porcelain wall with a pair of public elevators. There’s also a two-story elevator in the court service center and library, equipped with computer terminals and a center manager to assist people who need to file court documents and prepare for serving as their own attorneys.

“We’re one of the poorer counties, if not the poorest county in the state, so we have a lot of unrepresented people,” said District Court Judge William Mazanec III, adding that the service center — harkening back to the Reinventing Justice Project in the 1990s to make the courts more user-friendly — has been heavily used in the temporary courthouse. “This is an important piece of the cog in this particular county.”

On the tour, Mazenec pointed out 3½-foot-diameter stone eagle cornices that he and others convinced the state to rescue from the old building for the stairwell, along with original brass light fixtures that accent the original, northern part of the building.

Each of the six light-oak-paneled courtrooms, with matching furnishings and red carpeting, have either natural daylight or daylight borrowed from a rear hallway along the building’s eastern side.

Apart from being aesthetically pleasing, natural light has a calming effect, said Mazanec. “A lot of daylight helps people.”

There are separate courtrooms for district court arraignments, probate and family court, district court jury trials, Superior Court, housing court and juvenile court, each with pretrial conference rooms.

On the fourth floor, opposite the entrance to the superior, district-jury and housing courtrooms, visitors get not only a sweeping view of the western hills, but also can see the planted roof, one of the energy-saving features of the new building’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Work on the project, overseen by Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., stepped into high gear that fall of 2014, with subcontractor Marguerite Concrete working late into the night and on weekends pouring the building’s core walls to keep the project on schedule. Now that the schedule is approaching the third anniversary of the Valentine’s Day 2014 move into temporary quarters on Munson Street, workers are working on finishing touches in the new building, such as installing sound equipment in the courtrooms.

The new building, with large windows to allow light into the atrium, replaces an overcrowded, if ornate, 44,000-square-foot courthouse that featured marble walls, grand foyers, granite floors, dimly fluorescent-lit hallways and hanging courtroom light fixtures. Only about 27,000 square feet of the old building — which at one time also housed county government offices, the cooperative building inspector’s program and even the cooperative extension service — was usable space.

As a result, there was only a single holding cell in a former storage area. There was a system for escorting prisoners in through a side door from Hope Street and past the public waiting on benches in crowded hallways, which is where defense attorneys tried to conduct private conferences with clients.

Moving day ahead

The temporary Munson Street courthouse space, from which employees expect to move after the close of business next Friday, provided many of the contemporary function, space and security requirements that are in place at the new justice center, including separate hallways for judges and staff, separate elevators for judges and incarcerated defendants being brought up from basement holding cells, with separate quarters for juvenile and adult, male and female defendants, along with secure sally ports for delivering those who are incarcerated.

Also among those on Friday’s tour was Register of Deeds Scott Cote, who was looking at the roughly 1,700-square-foot, second-floor space in the old courthouse that has been assigned for the registry, which has been housed in 2,800 square feet of rented space on Olive Street since April 2013.

In addition to tighter quarters — there is an additional 600 square feet on the third floor for registry storage as well as room for realty closings — Cote says the Secretary of State’s move of the registry will mean customers will have go to a security checkpoint and will have less convenient parking than they’ve had in the $62,000-a-year rented space.

“I’m told I’m being placed back in there. It’s not my choice,” said Cote, who says there’s no designated date for the registry move, although it’s likely to be “a month or months” after the new center opens. “I fought pretty hard not to go back.”

Aside from the cost savings, there’s a rationale for the registry being close to the probate registry, since “the records go hand in hand,” Cote acknowledged — although he added that a computer terminal allows registry customers to search 30 years of probate documents and court entries.

Among the chief concerns for the new facility’s roughly 100 employees is provision of parking, scattered around the downtown, until the town can build its new $10 million, 350-space parking garage at the foot of Olive Street. Construction of the garage, using a $7.5 million state grant, is expected to begin this summer and take about 15 months to complete.

You can reach Richie Davis at:

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269


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