By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, August 31, 2004
HAMPTON - There are vermin in the Hampton District Court, literally.
A squirrel has made its way into the century old courthouse and is hiding out in the basement. Birds also getting into the building.
Last week the building was sprayed for fleas; Belle Coyne, a courthouse clerk, said the problem has lessened.
But, she says, the fleas are just another example on why a new courthouse is desperately needed.
The building, which was originally a school and then a firehouse, shows its age and is not handicapped accessible.
There is also mold growing in the basement that was caused after a pipe burst last winter. Coyne said everyone who works there is complaining about allergies.
The town of Hampton, which owns the property, leases it to the state.
Hampton Town Manager James Barrington said he's embarrassed by the situation.
"We tried to make it at least safe and habitable," Barrington said. "I'm sure there are not many people that will happily go to work in a place like that."
The town paid for the spraying and setting up of traps, but Barrington said the town doesn't want to put more money than it has to into the building.
One reason is the town doesn't have the extra money. Hampton is already struggling with a default budget.
But the main reason is that the state is planing to build a new courthouse.
The problem is that when that will occur is anyone's guess.
Last year, the state Bureau of Court Facilities was investigating plans to obtain land to consolidate the Hampton and Exeter district courts as mandated by the Legislature in 1992.
Those plans are now on hold after several towns, including Hampton, said they didn't want to see the courts consolidated.
State Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, cosponsored an amendment that temporarily prevented consolidation of Exeter and Hampton district courts.
Prescott said the amendment allows more time for study before the courts are brought under one roof.
"This building is on its last legs," Barrington said. "Our hope is the state will construct the new courthouse where the old one is now. We've been reluctant in spending money to fix up that place when we know they're not going to be there much longer."
Barrington recalled that several years ago a representative from the state Department of Labor came down to conduct inspections at different town-owned buildings.
"They wanted to shut the building down," Barrington said.
Barrington said officials have conducted a lot of work in the building, even if it doesn't look like it.
"We've done maintenance work on the heating system so they wouldn't freeze to death last winter," Barrington said. "We've also done some work on the floor there."
Last year, discussion arose on whether to conduct cosmetic work on the building with a fresh coat of paint, but selectmen rejected the idea.
The town leases the building to the state for $2,272.08 per month. It spends $16,800 a year in maintaining the building.
When the lease expires in November, Barrington said the town will probably rent it to the state again until it decides where it wants to build the new courthouse.
"It's not much worse than when they renewed it the last time," Barrington said.