Bar News - May 17, 2017
Judicial Branch to Merge Trial Court Center and AOC in New Location
By: Kristen Senz
The north side of the office complex at One Granite Place in Concord, at right, will house the NH Judicial Branch administrative offices following a planned move this summer.
The Administrative Office of the Courts, located across Charles Doe Drive from the NH Supreme Court building in Concord, is the proposed new home of Concord Probate Division and the NH Circuit Court’s Complex Trust Docket (CTD). Retrofitting the AOC as a courthouse is expected to take between one year and 18 months. AOC staff will begin moving over to One Granite Place next month.
This schematic rendering shows the courthouse planned for Hampton, designed by Portsmouth architecture firm Oak Point Associates. Pending a funding apprpriatioin in the capital budget, the court would be built off Timber Swamp Road, adjacent to Interstate 95, next to the Park and Ride.
This rendering, courtesy of Christopher P. Williams Architects, depicts the proposed Milford Circuit Court, which would be built off Route 101 at the intersection of Meadowbrook Drive and Phelan Road, where the current Department of Safety building is located, pending a legislative appropriation in the state’s capital budget.
Starting next month, the New Hampshire Judicial Branch will begin moving and consolidating its Concord administrative offices to accommodate various facilities and growth needs, including making way for a new Probate Court in Concord, to house the NH Circuit Court’s Complex Trust Docket (CTD).
The Circuit Court and Superior Court administrative offices, along with the Court Information Center and Electronic Filing Center, will move from the Trial Court Center, located in leased space on Chenell Drive in Concord, to One Granite Place, not far from state prison in Concord, in the office building attached to the Lincoln Financial offices. The state’s lease on the Chenell Drive location, where the court has shared a building with the Oasis Christian Church, expired last August, court officials said.
Also moving to One Granite Place is the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), which is currently housed in a state-owned building on Charles Doe Drive, across from the NH Supreme Court. Pending the NH Legislature’s approval of the state’s proposed capital budget, the AOC building will be retrofitted as a courthouse large enough to accommodate Concord Probate and the CTD, a venue for complicated trust cases that can each involve more than a dozen lawyers.
A total of 144 employees of the NH Judicial Branch – 47 from the AOC and 97 from the Trial Court Center – will move to the third and fourth floors of the northern side of the office building at One Granite Place, in a staggered schedule starting June 16 and ending in late July. The carefully coordinated moving plan, which has been in the works for nearly a year, seeks to minimize disruption in court functions.
New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis issued the following statement on the move:
“Bringing the Administrative Office of the Courts, our administrative judges and the Information Center all under one roof makes good sense, both strategically and financially. It consolidates the ‘back office’ work of the Judicial Branch while operational and maintenance costs will also be reduced. One Granite Place gives us the 35,000 square feet that we need, a long-term lease and room to expand, if necessary. It won’t be your average move, so I am extremely grateful to our Director of the AOC, Chris Keating, for making it all happen.”
The Judicial Branch has agreed to a 10-year lease at a discounted rate of $11.25 per square foot, with the landlord agreeing to pay for the majority of the fit-up costs at One Granite Place. The Judicial Branch estimates the cost to retrofit the AOC at $1.5 million, compared with an estimated $4.5 million price tag for a new courthouse, for a savings of $3 million.
Keating, who oversees the 97 employees in IT, human resources, accounting and other departments at AOC, says co-locating Judicial Branch administrative staff will facilitate enhanced collaboration and efficiency. “The logistics are just going to be so much easier for that when we’re all in the same building,” he said.
The court’s call center is scheduled to be the last department to move, on Friday, July 14. The goal is to have it fully operational in the new location by Monday morning, July 17. “It’s the public link to the Judicial Branch, so we really have to get that right,” Keating said. “We may farm out calls (to local court locations) if we have to, but the plan is to have a seamless transfer.”
Probate Court Moving Twice
The downtown building that currently houses the 6th Circuit Concord Probate Division on North Main Street is scheduled for demolition next month, to make room for the renovation and expansion of the adjacent Merrimack County Superior Court. That means Concord Probate has to move out before its new home at the AOC is ready. The superior court project is scheduled for a June 1 groundbreaking.
The timeline for the Probate Court’s temporary relocation was recently moved up to June 23 due to the impending demise of Concord Steam, which provides heat to the building. The Probate Division will move to the Circuit Court location on Clinton Street during construction at the AOC.
Also currently housed in the downtown building that is being razed is the Merrimack County Registry of Deeds, which is slated to temporarily relocate to One Granite Place, in the same building as court administrative staff, but on a different floor. The Registry of Deeds and other Merrimack County offices are slated to occupy a portion of the expanded downtown court building, once construction is complete.
Stephen Duprey, a member of the NH Bar and the developer of the Merrimack County Superior Court project, owns the One Granite Place building where the Judicial Branch administrative staff and Registry of Deeds will be located (Duprey’s company, Foxfire Property Management, also manages the office building at 2 Pillsbury St., which houses the NH Bar Center). City records show he bought half of the Lincoln Financial building at One Granite Place in 2015 for $1.7 million.
Contingent on passage of the state capital budget, construction to retrofit the AOC building for use by Concord Probate and the CTD will take at least a year. The creation of the CTD was in direct response to the NH Legislature passing the Trust Modernization Act (SB 50) in 2011 which, by design, attempts to make New Hampshire the most trust-friendly state in the country. More trusts means more complex trust disputes, and the Judicial Branch has been searching for a suitable and centrally located venue to resolve them since the CTD was created.
“I’ve had trust docket cases with 16 lawyers, and trying to squeeze them into Concord Probate is pretty challenging,” said Circuit Court Deputy Chief Administrative Judge David King, who presides over CTD cases.
Other Court Construction Projects
In addition to these moves and changes, the Judicial Branch is hoping the NH Legislature, as part of the capital budget, will also approve funding for the construction of new courthouses in Hampton and Milford.
The proposed Milford courthouse would be built off Route 101 at the intersection of Meadowbrook Drive and Phelan Road, where the current Department of Safety building is located. The court and DOS would share the proposed new building. The Hampton courthouse would be constructed off Timber Swamp Road, adjacent to Interstate 95, next to the Park and Ride, according to court officials.
The existing Hampton District Court is actually located in Seabrook, in an industrial building it shares with another business, on a section of road that is incorrectly mapped by at least one common GPS application. On busy summer court days, lines stretch out the door and lawyers often use restrooms and hallways to confer with clients.
“It’s a pretty deplorable building,” said Judge King, the Circuit Court’s deputy chief administrative judge. “It definitely needs an upgrade.”
The cost to develop the plans for the two courthouses was included in last year’s budget, so if the funding is approved in the capital budget, the NH Department of Administrative Services, which oversees all court construction projects, is ready to put these projects out to bid.
“Until June 30, we won’t know if we have this funding or not,” King said.