AUGUSTA — Maine Supreme Court Justice Joseph Jabar sat behind a plywood mockup of a judge’s bench, swiveling a video monitor to get the best imaginary view of a courtroom yet to be erected.

He and other judges weighed in on the finer points of interior furnishings — including where the monitors would be placed — for a new consolidated courts building, which reached a milestone Wednesday when one of the final pieces of steel was placed atop four stories of steel and concrete.

A steel fixture, known as a lantern, atop the open-air stairway bore the signature of judges of all levels of the state court system, as well as clerks, sheriff’s deputies, Attorney General Janet Mills, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, county commissioners and other county workers and city officials and Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta.

In keeping with the traditional “topping out” ceremony, the square steel structure carried a small live fir, its pot held in place with two lengths of rebar, with an American flag.

“Thank you for everything that has gotten us to where we are now,” said Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, addressing onlookers in their brightly colored hard hats.

She said teamwork among the judicial branch, architects and Consigli Construction Co. has made the project on time and on budget. The company is doing the construction project for a guaranteed maximum price of $42.9 million, and the entire cost of the project is about $52 million.

“Four-and-a-half years ago, we had this vision of a building that had all the courts here in one building in the city instead of the way other places have done it, out on the highway,” Saufley said.

As Saufley spoke, construction continued and punctuated her remarks with loud clangs of metal on metal. She said the new building will better accommodate both workers and the public as well as being safer.

Work on the 2 1/2-acre site at Winthrop and Perham streets has been underway for about 13 months.

Once the building is completed — projected to be in the spring of 2015 — it will house the functions of Augusta district and family courts as well as Kennebec County Superior Court. It also will be linked by a glassed-in pedestrian bridge to the second floor of the historic, granite-block Kennebec County Courthouse.

Slightly more than a year ago, the steeply sloping site in Augusta contained buildings formerly occupied by Crisis & Counseling Centers and the diminutive Augusta Spiritualist Church. Both organizations moved elsewhere in the city.

Roofing work should begin in the next couple of weeks, said Steve McPhersen, project superintendent for Consigli.

Peter Anderson, architect with PDT Architects of Portland, which designed the building, said the lantern reflects the cupola on the adjacent 1830 county courthouse and will reflect light from the stairwell like a beacon.

“It will be a beacon of justice on the hill in Augusta,” Saufley said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
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