Seabrook Awaits Court Site Visit

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By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 21, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

SEABROOK - Representatives from the state Court Accreditation Committee are expected to visit Seabrook soon to check possible locations for a temporary district courthouse.

Seabrook has begun competing with Hampton to have the state locate a district court - both temporarily and permanently - in town.

So far, the glass slipper for a temporary spot has not fit Hampton.

No meeting had been set by Monday for court officials to come to Seabrook, according to Seabrook Town Manager Fred Welch, who said he didn't know if the viewing would be delayed by the Christmas holiday this week.

Peter Goodwin, administrator of the Bureau of Court Facilities, who is scheduling the tour, could not be reached by press time on Monday.

Suggested sites are the Seabrook Library, the former fire station on Collins Street and the Old Brown Library, which is at the current library and is used by the Historical Society of Seabrook.

Any temporary location must be handicapped-accessible, said Welch.

Welch denied any competition between Hampton and Seabrook to get court officials to say yes to their proposals.

"We simply made an offer," Welch said. "The court asked for help and we're willing to help."

The state has turned down an estimated half-dozen offers of temporary locations from Hampton.

"Certainly we haven't given up yet," said Hampton Town Manager James Barrington. "We're trying to figure out if there might be other alternatives."

Seabrook has offered to place a bond article on the March warrant for voters to approve funding for a permanent district court to be built on donated land off Route 107. The state would pay back the town, at no cost to taxpayers.

Hampton has also offered a free permanent site, at the location of the former town office on Winnacunnet Road, which is next door to the current courthouse. The town has also contacted resident Jack Lessard, who owns the vacant Newick's restaurant on Lafayette Road, about building a courthouse on the lot and entering into an agreement for a lease/purchase of the property with the state.

Welch admits there's no real financial gain for Seabrook to have a courthouse in town. It does save on transportation and staffing costs in police travel time to the court, he said.

Barrington said convenience for police officers is just one advantage to having a courthouse in town.

"Aside from the prestige of having the courthouse, you do have the law enforcement traffic that comes, an ancillary benefit from having police cars in town," he said. "It establishes a law enforcement presence in the community, extra free patrol in essence."

Getting employees out of the current Hampton District Court is "very high on the priority list" for State Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, said Laura Kiernan, communications director of the courts. "He wants those employees in a safe, healthy environment. We're not talking six months, we're talking soon."

The century-old Hampton District Court building does not meet standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been inundated with fleas, and now is showing mold on the courtroom ceiling.

Hampton has offered various temporary locations: the empty and former Newick's restaurant; the vacant Employee Benefit Planned Administrator (EBPA) building on Drakeside Road; the unused old town hall on Winnacunnet Road; the Maranatha Church on High Street; and a building on Merrill Industrial Drive.

The problem with the vacant Hampton buildings is that all require time and money to be opened, said Kiernan.

"They've looked at a lot of locations," said Kiernan. "The point with Hampton is they need to be moved promptly, because of the ADA, and they've had fleas and mold."

At Merrill Industrial Drive, the court was concerned about security conflicts with other tenants in the building, said Barrington. They were also concerns about sharing space with the church, he said.

Kiernan said Seabrook officials have assured them there are no security concerns at their proposed locations.

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