New Cheshire County courthouse breaks ground on Keene site
City and Cheshire County Courthouse officials celebrated the start of the $10.9 million Cheshire County Courthouse at a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new building in Keene on Friday afternoon. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)
KEENE - City, county and state officials celebrated the public and private collaboration that made the new $10.9 million Cheshire County courthouse building project possible at a ground breaking ceremony Friday afternoon.
Standing in the current Cheshire County Superior Courthouse parking lot where the new 49,000 square foot courthouse is to be built, the officials said they would be back late next year for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
The new county courthouse is to be the new home for the county's Probate, Superior and 8th Circuit Court District Division in Keene.
The project was undertaken by a Cheshire Court Task Force three years ago when space limitations in the Cheshire Superior Courthouse on Court Street and the 8th Circuit Court District Division in Keene located in City Hall was deemed in adequate, and the state threatened to force both courthouses to out of downtown or the city all together.
"This building is a testament to the community spirit of this county," County Commissioner John Pratt said. "When the state came and condemned this circuit court and said it was not adequate and then the state said we have no money for a new court so we'll have to move, then this county moved into action."
State Sen. Molly Kelly and Jack Dugan, president of Monadnock Economic Development Corporation, were vital members of the task force, Pratt said.
"We would not be here today if it were not for Molly Kelly, who would not and could not take no for an answer and kept going back to Concord and starting from scratch time after time."
Three years ago the state court system was considering moving the circuit court, which currently operates in City Hall, to the county's second circuit court in Jaffrey because of a lack of space for the proper holding of prisoners as well as adequate security.
The Cheshire County Superior Court on Court Street was also faced at that time with building a new courthouse outside of downtown Keene or Keene altogether to accommodate its space needs. City and County officials though feared these changes would dramatically affect the city and reasonable access to the court system.
Kelly said the county was faced with the court crisis at the beginning of the economic recession and the project would not have happened without a willingness to collaborate in tough times.
"We need to keep the courts centralized here in the center of Cheshire County, which is Keene. The bottom line, what we're achieving here is when this is built is we are supporting our legal community and we're also supporting our economy. The most important thing is we are providing access to justice for the people of Cheshire County in a safe and secure building."
Kelly also credited Dugan and MEDC for its creative and collaborative approach that made the project possible.
"They stepped forward and they provided the special authority that they have. They have a special ability to plan together," Kelly said.
Dugan said the project was funded by a combination of public and private loans, from the city and state, and two different banks and through the purchase of city and state tax credits, as well as money from MEDC itself.
MEDC will own the new courthouse building and has a 15-year lease agreement. Dugan said MEDC hopes the county or state would step forward to buy the building halfway through that lease agreement, in seven years.
Officials said the new courthouse is to be completed by Dec. 1, 2013.
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