by Mickey Smith
HYDE PARK – It's been years in the planning, but the current assistant judges at the Lamoille County Court House in Hyde Park hope they finally have a plan to expand the space and modernize the safety features at the 100 year old building that will be included in the state's Capital Budget.
Assistant Judge David Williams said the state approved $250,000 for the planning and permits for an expansion project last year. He said the state's immediate concern revolves around the notion of putting state money into a county owned building. Lamoille County and Orange County are the only two counties left in Vermont where the courthouses are owned at the local level, thus not receiving funds from the state for maintenance and upkeep.
Williams said he hopes this concern has been alleviated by suggesting the state build their “own building” directly behind the current building, but have the two become shared space. He said the county has proposed a 50 year lease, with the potential for a 50 year renewal. Rent for the first 50 years of the lease would be based on what work has to be done to the current building to retrofit it for the addition. Williams said the old building has also been “grandfathered” on a number of code requirements, and changes to the current building could trigger modifications.
Williams said while on paper it would be considered two buildings, the courthouse would be an integrated facility, with no changes made to the historic courtroom. Williams said the added space would address both overcrowding as well as security needs.
He said space constraints have long been an issue both for the building’s staff as well as those using the courthouse. Williams pointed to the situation when juries are drawn and the volume of people is higher than the number of chairs available, so people are forced to sit on the floor or stand in the hall. Another issue comes up every Friday afternoon when the court system deals with restraining orders. Williams said they wind up with a situation with people having restraining orders placed against them sitting on one side of the hall and people putting the orders on them sitting on the other side of the hall.
The architecture firm of Smith, Alverez and Sienkiewycz, of Burlington, put together the new plans, that changed earlier designs put together by the EH Danson Company. The Danson design had planned an approximately 13,000 square foot addition built between the courthouse and the Sheriff's Department, but the new plan calls for the building to sit behind the courthouse, with a smaller addition on the opposite side of the building from the Sheriff's Department. The new plan comes in just over 9,700 s/f. Williams said the addition had to move from between the two buildings because of the radio tower, as any movement of the tower would trigger zoning, Act 250 and US/Canadian FCC scrutiny.
The plans call for a three story building on the backside of the courthouse, the first floor of which would connect with the basement of the sheriff's department making a secure hall where prisoners could be transported. There would also be a sally port large enough for a vehicle to be driven into on the first floor. A large multi-purpose room would also be created on the lowest floor. Williams said this would be large enough for the jury draws.
The second floor would line up with the ground floor of the courthouse. The main change that would be done on this level would be a flip-flop of the Probate Court offices and the County Clerk's office.
The jury space would be moved to the third floor, with a deliberating room, a small kitchenette and two bathrooms for the jurors. The judges' chambers would be upstairs as well.
The addition on the side of the building would be shared space for the different courts located in the building. He said they decided to build it on a foundation, rather than a slab, so they had an area for future expansion.
Williams said within the next week they expect to have preliminary cost estimates from the architectural firm, these numbers will be used as they try to get the plan into the upcoming capital bill for the new legislative session.