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Bar News - October 17, 2008


Asbestos Removal to Require Hillsborough North Relocation

Court anticipates temporary move to Nashua in late 2009


Hillsborough North Court House, Manchester
The NH Judicial Branch, anticipating legislative approval in 2009 of capital funds to remove asbestos and fully renovate the Hillsborough North courthouse in Manchester, has begun planning for relocating court operations to Nashua while the work is underway.

All of the existing court operations in Manchester won’t be heading south, however – the expansion of the Family Division to Hillsborough County will have taken place by then, resulting in the marital division transferring to court facilities in Manchester and other nearby sites. (See page 30 for article on the progress and timetable of the expansion of the Family Division.)

If the legislature appropriates the funds during the upcoming session, the move would take place in late 2009; abatement and renovation of the Manchester courthouse will then take at least 18 months to complete.

"We are confident that state officials share our desire to move forward on this project as soon as possible," Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. said. While lawmakers consider the capital appropriation, the Chief Justice said, "We felt it was our responsibility to start thinking now about how to make this move efficiently and with the least amount of inconvenience for our Manchester judges and staff, members of the bar and the public."

A management team, led by Superior Court Judge William J. Groff, the presiding justice at Hillsborough South, met for the first time on Sept. 25 to look at office space, jury rooms, security, parking, computer systems and scheduling at the Nashua facility. Additional members of the team are Judge James J. Barry, Jr., the presiding justice at Hillsborough North; clerk John M. Safford from Manchester; clerk Marshall A. Buttrick from Nashua; Probate Court Administrative Judge David D. King; Kim Bonenfant, the deputy probate register in Hillsborough County; Stephen R. Lorentzen, administrator of the state Bureau of Court Facilities; Laura Kiernan, court communications director; Adele Britton from the Hillsborough North staff, and office manager Kathy Jones from Hillsborough South.

At its next meeting in October, the team plans to draw up a list of groups to meet with in connection with the proposed move, including representatives from the New Hampshire Bar, local bar associations, the public defender, state and local officials, and local and county law enforcement.

"We will be happy to work with Chief Justice Broderick and the court staff to make this temporary relocation work as best as it can for lawyers and their clients," Ellen Arnold, president of the New Hampshire Bar Association said. "We will also look forward to doing business again in a newly renovated courthouse in Manchester once this work is completed," she added.

During the 2008 session, the legislature appropriated $2.6 million to accelerate the opening of the Family Division at the Manchester District Court so that the marital division from Hillsborough North could move there by late 2009. Superior and Probate Court operations would temporarily relocate to Hillsborough South in Nashua. Lawmakers also allocated $1.3 million to pay for an architect to design interior renovation for the Hillsborough North building. The bill also included language which said that during renovations, when the two courts are at one location, jury pools would be selected from the entire county.

A capital appropriation of approximately $17 million is now needed to remove the asbestos, gut the interior of the courthouse and complete renovations. That request, which has been given high priority by the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services Linda Hodgdon, will be considered during the 2009 legislative session. The Judicial Branch, in its capital budget request for FY 10-11, has requested those funds; if the governor agrees with that project request, he can include it in his capital budget, which will be submitted to the legislature in February 2009.

Ongoing air sampling conducted at the Hillsborough North courthouse since 2001 has consistently remained within standards set by federal regulators, and environmental consultants have said there is no safety or health concern to occupants as long as the asbestos remains undisturbed. Late last year however, after an "asbestos containing material" survey found a far greater presence of intact asbestos in the building than had been expected, state and court officials began looking at options for moving all personnel to another location while the building was fully abated. In the meantime, they determined that no renovations, other than minor repairs, would be made so as to avoid disturbance of intact asbestos while personnel were in the building. That decision, as well as the possibility of an unexpected occurrence that would require immediate evacuation of the courthouse, led to the focus on how to resolve the issues in the facility as soon as possible.

Starting in February 2008, there were a series of meetings during which a working group of lawmakers, state and court officials, led by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, considered various scenarios for addressing the asbestos issue, including gutting and renovating the existing building; building a new courthouse on state-owned property (or donated land); or leasing courthouse space in Manchester. Each would have required moving court operations, as well as the county attorney’s office, to other locations temporarily. The cost of rent, the amount of space needed and the cost of fitting up space to serve a court facility, however, made it impractical to keep court personnel in Manchester while the existing building was renovated. Various discussions about locating the courthouse on land in or near the city (it is state policy to use only donated or state-owned land) did not result in a solution.

"All of these things were considered and sketched out financially and it was concluded that economically, and in order to keep the courthouse in downtown Manchester, the only thing that made sense was to temporarily move to Nashua while the building was renovated," Superior Court Chief Justice Robert J. Lynn told staff members during a recent meeting. He described the plan as a "reasonable decision."

"Obviously the details have to be worked out and we need to be sensitive in accomodating everyone’s interests," Chief Justice Lynn said.

This article was based on material provided by the NH Judicial Branch communications office.

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