AUGUSTA — Now that the new Capital Judicial Center is open and operating, construction crews have moved on to the historic Kennebec County Courthouse.

Changes are in the works for the Kennebec County district attorney’s office as well as for Kennebec County Probate Court and probate clerks.

“New carpet, new paint, new ceiling tiles and a new phone system,” said Robert Devlin, Kennebec County administrator. The project is fairly simple and low-budget, using almost exclusively inmate labor, he said.

On Friday, a dozen inmates from the Kennebec County jail, all in orange sweatshirts, scurried in and out of the building, readying rooms for painting and shifting items. A corrections officer stayed nearby.

In the meantime, the district attorney’s staff, which includes 25 people, including paid and unpaid interns, is shifting quarters and making room for the four people who previously had offices in Waterville District Court.

Closing the district attorney’s offices in Waterville saves about $15,000 in rent plus utilities and maintenance costs, said Maeghan Maloney, Kennebec County district attorney.

In the meantime, the county is renting space in the new judicial center for the district attorneys to use.

“The cost to the county to rent space in the judicial center is about half what we’re paying in Waterville,” Devlin said.

Three assistant district attorneys are ensconced in rooms that formerly served as judge’s chambers.

Across the hall, towers of boxes of restitution records as well as prosecutors’ files from Waterville District Court fill the small courtroom on the second floor, occupying space where jurors, attorneys and defendants sat not long ago.

Diana York now tracks restitution payments from what was most recently the judge’s bench. Eventually she and others will move down to the main floor.

“Once we get everybody moved, then we’ll renovate the small courtroom for office space,” Devlin said. “We will not disturb the historic features of the courtroom, which started out as a law library when each county was required to provide a law library.”

The former clerk’s offices on the courthouse first floor are now vacant and stripped of everything but the historic fireplaces, which will remain.

“All of the legal secretaries, paralegals and office manager will be in the offices where the court clerks used to sit,” Maloney said. That is the first phase of the project and is expected to be finished within a month.

“One of the important pieces of this move is that there will no longer be offices in the basement,” Devlin said. Several assistant district attorneys and clerks work in that ground-floor section.

The shifting is continuing as part of the former offices of the support staff will be converted to a conference room shared by Probate Court.

An interior doorway has been erected across the main corridor on the first floor, so people will have to be buzzed into the area in order to enter Probate Court or to meet with assistant district attorneys.

It will be a controlled entry point to increase security in the building, Devlin said.

Plans call for the closure of one stairwell and access to a subterranean storage area, with its metal stairs and brick archway.

“It really looks like a dungeon, and we’re closing it off,” Devlin said. “Maybe 100-plus years ago, it was there for storage. We’re completely cleaning it out and locking the door to it.”

Devlin said the cost for the county’s renovations — largely materials — is expected to be about $15,000 for everything, and that has been included in the county’s capital improvement plan.

“We had anticipated this coming up,” he said.

The next project, he said, is expected to be new windows for the superior courtroom.

“We want to get something that is historically correct,” he said, adding that also was part of the county’s capital improvement plan.

The entire building is getting sprinkler and alarm systems as part of the renovations being done for the large, ornate courtroom on the second floor, which will be accessible from the new courthouse via two pedestrian bridges.

“There will be no public access to that courtroom from our courthouse,” Devlin said.

The wooden bench in that courtroom will be lengthened to allow all seven justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to sit there for hearings. Consigli Construction Inc., which erected the new courthouse, is doing that work as well as completing connection bridges.

Devlin said there is a weekly construction meeting to go over details that include the scheduling of moving piping through working offices. “There’s a bit of a choreography that’s going on,” he said Friday.

Outside the courthouse, earth-moving equipment occupies the front lawn, and a large refuse container occupies a lane of Court Street that leads to the new courthouse. And work on the area designated for the public parking lot continues. In the meantime, the employee section of the parking area remains open to the public as court employees are being shuttled from a remote parking site.

That state-funded project, which was funded as part of the $57 million new courthouse project, is expected to be completed this summer.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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