AUGUSTA — As a new four-story courthouse takes shape on Winthrop Street’s lower hill, overlooking downtown, efforts are underway to secure more parking spaces for people who will use the justice center.
So far, the focus is on a block of four buildings, most of them more than a century old, that form a residential island along Perham Street.
The buildings include an apartment house at 32 Court St. that had been for sale previously, a two-family house at 19-21 Perham St. and single-family homes at 13 and 15 Perham St.
The view from the front of the Perham Street buildings is of the rear of the Kennebec County jail. The backs of the houses look out on an area now used to store construction equipment and eventually destined for courthouse parking.
To residents, the idea appears to be somewhat welcome.
Brenda and Benoit Thibaudeau have owned the 19-21 Perham St. duplex since 1972 and are open to selling their home for the project.
“We brought the kids up here,” Brenda Thibaudeau said this week. “It’s time to move on. We’re retired and semiretired. It’s a big house and it’s time to downsize.”
She said she had spoken to at least one neighbor who was willing to sell as well.
The city Planning Board required more parking than the 93 spaces in the court system’s original proposal to avoid having courthouse parking spill over into neighborhood streets.
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Joseph Jabar and Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said establishing parking at the Perham Street properties would be ideal and would allow for 87 more spaces for people using the new building.
“We’re trying to really make it more user-friendly by establishing a parking lot behind the jail and next to the courthouse,” Jabar said. “That’s a perfect spot. That would add over 80 parking spaces so people won’t have to walk up the hill.”
Parking on Perham Street would be about on the same level as the building’s main entrance.
However, he said those planning the courthouse realize that people are living in those houses. “We’re trying to negotiate a fair price for them,” Jabar said.
Bridgeo said a number of entities have worked cooperatively on the courthouse project and related parking, including the county and the Augusta Parking District.
“There’s no discussion of anything other than attempting to negotiate voluntary sales of these properties,” Bridgeo said. “What we’ve done so far is the city accepted responsibility to secure appraisals of four parcels to be paid out of the courthouse project.”
He said negotiations then would take place with the property owners to see if they can agree on a price.
“They’ve all expressed a willingness to talk to us,” Bridgeo said, adding that the negotiations would be confidential.
In the meantime, the building project has reached the halfway stage.
“The hope is to be in the building this time next year,” Jabar said last week. “Crews are starting to put up drywall and installing piping now. It’s really starting to take shape and get exciting.”
Jabar is heading a courthouse stakeholders’ committee that includes the defense bar, prosecutors, domestic violence workers, victim advocates, sheriff’s deputies and others. The committee gets regular updates on the courthouse progress and will begin to form some transition subcommittees.
The goal, he said, is to have the attorneys, clerks, judges and others be familiar with technology and other building features when they move in.
“It’s going to be a big task,” he said. “We move and the schedules don’t stop.”
He said the state court system learned the importance of the transitioning process when it opened the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor in 2009.
“One of the things we learned was to do the transition early on; don’t do it at the last minute,” Jabar said.
Philip A. Johnson, the Augusta Court Facility’s project manager, said the project is “ahead of schedule and on or below budget.”
Consigli Construction Co. Inc. is doing the construction project on the 2 1/2-acre site for a guaranteed maximum price of $42.9 million. The project’s entire cost is about $52 million.
When finished, the building will hold six courtrooms and encompass the Augusta District Court and Family Court, which are in separate locations in the capital, as well as Kennebec County Superior Court and a consolidated clerks’ office.