AUGUSTA — If you’re looking for any state courts in the capital, the search is now over.

All are combined at the Capital Judicial Center, a four-story structure with glass galore giving spectacular views of the Kennebec and downtown, which will open for business at 8 a.m. Monday.

It houses the functions of Augusta District Court, Kennebec County Superior Court and family court, and includes six separate courtrooms of varying sizes.

It also functions as an office building for the court’s Office of Information Technology and the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Last Wednesday, the people most likely to be frequent users of the Capital Judicial Center — members of the Kennebec County Bar Association — toured the 120,000-square-foot facility, guided by Justice Joseph Jabar of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Jabar, one of seven judges who will call the building home, served as the liaison for the Maine Judicial Branch and chairman of the courthouse committee.

He joked with his fellow barristers that the new facility was a far cry from the old courtroom in the basement of Waterville City Hall.

“It’s such a nice courthouse, you’ll think you’re in a federal building,” he said.

In sharp contrast to the Augusta District Court on Memorial Circle, the new courtrooms are light and airy, feature large monitors on the wall that allow people to view materials and are fitted with padded seats on the benches for those long waits.

As more than three dozen attorneys climbed stairs, walked through courtrooms and corridors and dodged piles of boxes and filing drawers, Jabar pointed out mediation rooms, conference rooms and the more secure area with unpadded benches for the defendants in custody.

In fact, the tour did not include a behind-the-scenes look at where criminal defense attorneys can meet with incarcerated clients because it was locked.

“This building has a lot of security,” Jabar said. “Sometimes I think maybe more than we need.”

The courthouse has a secure garage area on the ground floor with parking for judges and a place designated for inmate transportation.

Entry security, required of everyone except staff, is located on the main floor, just off the circular entrance plaza and behind the existing Kennebec County Courthouse. On Wednesday Judicial Marshal Michael A. Coty worked with court security officers from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to configure the screening machinery.

A number of items were still being carried into the building with workers taking directions off several schematics pinned to columns on the first floor.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s totally complete,” Phillip Johnston, who served as owner’s representative on the site, said last week. “It continues to be on time and under budget, and all of the dates we said that we would meet, we’ve met.”

Johnston said the overall project budget is $57 million, and that includes two related projects now under way.

One is an area for public parking and the other is improvements to the historic Kennebec County Courthouse next door.

“Parking is going to be a serious problem for the next two and a half months,” Jabar warned the attorneys, even as an excavator prepared to raze the fourth and final structure on Perham Street just outside the courthouse and behind the jail. Once that property is paved, likely in mid-May, it will hold 92 public parking spaces.

In the meantime, visitors to the judicial center will compete with employees for open slots. Ultimately, the building will have 18 secure parking spaces under the building plus 74 spaces outdoors gated off for employee parking and those 92 public slots.

The rehab for the 1830s courthouse includes installation of a sprinkler and fire alarm system, the finishing touches to a glass-enclosed walkway that connects the new courthouse to the existing one, plus a second bridge to provide public access to the large, ornate courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse. The courtroom’s ornate wooden bench will be extended to accommodate all seven justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court when they sit to hear appeals in Augusta.

“It’s a beautiful courtroom,” Jabar said. “It’s like a museum.” The red-carpeted room has a fireplace in one corner, judge’s portraits on the wall, an elaborately decorated ceiling and dark wooden benches.

Consigli Corp., which built the new judicial center, remains the general contractor for the work. PDT Architects of Portland designed the judicial center.

Along for the tour was former Democratic state legislator Libby Mitchell, who was instrumental in helping to get the building off the ground with crucial legislative votes in 2009.

“It was a year when people felt there weren’t enough resources and building a new court building wasn’t as important as issuing bonds for roads,” she said. “It was one of my top priorities when I was President of the Senate,” she said, praising Jabar for his work in carrying out the vision of those plans.

Mitchell said she, Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley and others had laid the groundwork for a new court facility in Augusta, working with the city, the bond bank and others to secure financing for it.

“Normally the president of the senate does not go to sit in on legislative committee hearings and neither does the chief justice,” Mitchell said. In this case, they did.

“We sat in the front row of the Judiciary Committee, and when it came time for a vote, we tried to put on our most intimidating faces. We got a unanimous vote. They probably would have voted that way anyway, but it’s nice to feel like our presence encouraged them to do the right thing.”

She also pointed out that she sponsored the original “One Percent for Art” bill, adopted in 1979, which provided funding for the huge mural, the stained glass and the paintings gracing the courthouse. The law calls for an amount equal to one percent of the construction budget to be set aside to purchase artwork.

“It’s public art, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “Who knew that those two things would come together? It’s just a beautiful place. It’s going to add to our community, to the city of Augusta and people from all over Kennebec. It’s going to be more efficient, and hopefully justice will be better served with everyone working together.”

According to Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Maine Judicial Branch, approximately 75 staff people from four Augusta locations and seven judges who previously had offices in three locations in Augusta will all be working at the Capital Judicial Center: Jabar and Jeffrey Hjelm of the Supreme Judicial Court, Superior Court Justices Michaela Murphy and Robert Mullen, District Court Judges Valerie Stanfill and Eric Walker and Chief District Court Judge Charles LaVerdiere.

LaVerdiere welcomed tour-takers into his corner office, and Murphy invited Mitchell to see her chambers, where plants and a couch spruced up the decor.

Construction on the 2 1/2-acre site on Winthrop Street began in earnest in fall 2012.

The former Crisis & Counseling Centers building and the 1923 Augusta Spiritualist Church, both located at the rear of the county courthouse, were demolished to make way for the new building, which required extensive use of pilings to shore up the hillside with its 17 percent slope. The project also required a zoning change on the part of the city.

The new judicial center echoes the older building and keeps some of the same design features, including a lantern atop the glassed in stairway that reprises the bell tower on the county courthouse.

A public open house is set for May 1, Law Day.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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