2017-09-28 / News

Courthouse architect has worked on similar projects

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The state of Maine Judicial Branch has hired an experienced project manager for the new York County Courthouse, which will be built on Elm Street, but not everyone is excited for the project to begin.

Philip Johnston oversaw construction of the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor in 2009 and the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta in 2015. Johnston is a selfemployed licensed architect in Maine and has contracted with the state since 2007.

Construction of the York Judicial Center is expected to begin fall 2018. The project is in the schematic design phase, the first of five phases. The shape and size of the building is still being decided and specific building materials have not yet been chosen. Johnston will work with other architects and state officials in a collaborative approach to resolve issues in the project as they arise, such as how much parking will be included and where. Next will be the design development, in which systems like heating and plumbing will be laid out. After that the blue prints are drawn and the bidding process will begin. The final phase of the project is construction.

“I work full time with both of them to see that the judicial branch’s wants and needs are met,” Johnston said. “I’ll be doing the same process on the Biddeford project, which we’re calling the York Judicial Center.”

The property in Biddeford is different than either space in Bangor or Augusta, which were both urban sites. The Bangor courthouse was located in a flood plain and the site in Augusta was on a hill. Johnson said building the Biddeford facility will be easier because the ground is flat and does not appear to have any major environmental concerns. The challenge for Johnston is the size of the lot, 28.5 acres in total. The Capital Judicial Center in Augusta was only 2.38 acres, including parking.

“We’re thankful there are buffers of natural trees between the adjacent neighborhoods and those will be respected,” Johnston said. “We’ve already met with city officials and we hope to meet with neighboring residents to hear their concerns.”

Gorrill Palmer, a South Portland based civil engineering company, will conduct a traffic study of the area along Elm Street. Johnston said more information will be available as the project is developed.

The new York County Courthouse is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to update and consolidate courthouses in every county. The Legislature passed a law in 1976 taking ownership of the 17 county courthouses. Many of the buildings were old and in need of repair, such as the Kennebec County Courthouse which was built in the 1830s.

Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the administrative office of the courts, said counties had a difficult time paying for renovations and thus the buildings went neglected for many years.

“They limped along until the 1990s when the state court system decided to address the facility problem,” she said. “Now we have been working gradually with legislative support and funding to improve these buildings.”

The Maine District Court in Biddeford, located on Adams Street, will close once the York County Courthouse opens and become state surplus property.

“We don’t need it and so the Department of Administration and Financial Services will sell it or find some other use for it,” Lynch said.

Peter Mourmouras, a Biddeford resident who lives on Elm Street near the York Courthouse’s future location, doesn’t believe the project will benefit the city. He doesn’t think the current three-lane road will be able to accommodate the increase in traffic. Nor is he excited about the prospect of possible criminals being transported in and out of the area.

The city purchased three parcels of land on 511-515 Elm Street for $700,000 in December 2014. The city sold two of those in March to the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority for $810,000. The property is assessed at $278,700.

Mourmouras hoped the city wouldn’t sell the Pate Property and instead keep it for recreational fields and recreation department facilities. He doesn’t think Rotary Park or the other local fields provide enough space for youth programs in the city. Mourmouras said the recreational field proposal was brought before city council and rejected.

“We’ve had all three kids grow up in the Biddeford system,” he said. “Biddeford schools are trying to get more activities. It made sense for the recreation department to be consolidated into one location.”

Mourmouras worries the new courthouse could negatively impact residential property values and hopes the courts will invest in traffic control and green space near surrounding properties. Mourmouras did not attend the Thursday, Aug. 24 meeting at city hall about the courthouse construction. Aside from that, he said he will wait for more information.

“It doesn’t seem to be the best answer,” Mourmouras said. “But the state and city have their own agenda. I can’t do anything about it.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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