AUGUSTA — For nearly two decades, Kennebec County officials have been looking for a permanent home for the Registry of Deeds.

Now they have one.

On Thursday, county officials closed on the purchase of 77 Winthrop St., and the office that keeps records of deeds and plans for Kennebec County properties dating back to the 1700s will move into its new home in June.

“It’s actually going to save us money,” Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said Thursday.

The sale price was $575,000, and the county paid in cash thanks to capital improvement funds that had been identified for a new building.

“Now that means the taxpayers will be paying no interest,” Beverly Bustin-Hatheway, Kennebec County Register of Deeds, said.

At 8,000 square feet, the building nearly doubles the space the registry currently occupies, and it will accommodate appropriate storage of the county’s historic maps and documents.

The Registry of Deeds has been in rented space on the second floor of One Weston Center just across State Street where the rent is $70,000 annually. It outgrew its space on the ground floor of the Kennebec County Courthouse.

Devlin said the county’s auditors and others had suggested the county would be better off investing money in property rather than paying a lease, and county officials have been trying to acquire space for a number of years. They considered the former Pomerleau building on State Street, the former Cony High School building and the former YMCA among others. They also had plans drawn up to build an office on a sliver of property next to the County Government Center, but that project didn’t get off the ground.

Until recently, the apparent new home for the Registry of Deeds was going to be the former Augusta District Court building on State Street, left vacant when the court’s operations moved north to the Capital Judicial Center.

“We actually had a resolve with the Legislature,” Devlin said. The document, dated in 2015, gave county officials the first option on the property for six months before listing it with private real estate brokers.

“We had been talking about a lease/purchase over 10 years,” he said.

The purchase price of the former district court building would have been $685,000, Devlin said. With $200,000 down, the annual payments would have been $48,500. In addition, Devlin said, there would have been a significant investment in a number of improvements, including removing the oil tank and addressing longstanding maintenance issues. Devlin estimated the annual operational cost of that building would have been about $163,000. That cost would have been mitigated by not paying the lease for the Weston Court space, he said.

“We were looking at adding an additional employee too because that building required that much work and maintenance,” Devlin said.

But last fall, he said, the deal fell through.

“We were pretty disappointed,” he said.

David Heidrich, spokesman for the state’s Bureau of General Services, confirmed there was an exclusive negotiating period with the county. The former district court building is now listed with CBRE | The Boulos Company.

“There are a few interested parties,” Heidrich said.

At the time that negotiations with the state were underway, one of the stated benefits of Kennebec County acquiring the former district courthouse was that it would keep another property from being taken off the tax rolls. Devlin said now that the state is free to sell it to a private buyer, its higher valuation will more than make up for the removal of new registry building.

Not long after, both Devlin and Bustin-Hatheway saw a real estate listing in the Kennebec Journal for the building that houses the Augusta office of the law firm Pierce Atwood at 77 Winthrop St.

“It’s in pristine condition, and it had a significantly lower price than the state wanted for the district court building,” he said.

David Barry, managing partner of Pierce Atwood, said the law firm is keeping its office in Augusta. In the short term, it will be leasing the office space back from Kennebec County. The firm is still in negotiations for its new location.

“That building has been useful and served us very well,” Barry said Thursday. “We’re looking at space that’s more suited to our current needs. We’re very appreciative of the flexibility (the county) has afforded us.”

The registry has been working on preserving the older maps and documents, Bustin-Hatheway said. After the move to Winthrop Street, she said she’ll be able to display the copies on the wall, and there will be ample space to store the originals in archival boxes.

While most people can research deeds online, she said, the historic documents still draw researchers.

“This really is an ideal opportunity to get that building,” she said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]com

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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