Future Uncertain for Old District Court House

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Welch: Building has Black Mold

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, September 26, 2008

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

The latest bid to expand the Winnacunnet Road fire station renewed the focus on the uncertain future of the old district courthouse in Hampton.

HAMPTON -- The Heritage Commission is renewing its fight to keep the century-old District Court building on Winnacunnet Road.

Maryanne McAden, chairwoman of the commission, said members want to see the 1873 building continued to be used and owned by the town.

"This is a part of Hampton's history that we can't afford to let go," McAden said.

The commission was reacting to a recent suggestion made by selectmen to have Town Manager Fred Welch look into offering the structure to anyone who will pay to remove it from its current site. The suggestion came in the aftermath of Welch recommending the building be stripped down to its frame, disassembled and either sold or put into storage for possible reuse.

"The building, unfortunately, has black mold in it, which is a serious contaminant," Welch said on why it has become a priority to take it down. "It's permeated a lot of the building and probably the interior and flat boards are going to have be taken off and disposed of properly."

Welch said the building, which has been vacant since 2005, may also have asbestos present. The best thing to do, he said, is remove it, compact the site and plant a grass cover to stabilize the site.

McAden, however, said the building is structurally sound.

"I don't know if he (Fred Welch) is up to speed on the building's condition or if he's just relying on some of the more vocal people in town who are saying it's old and should be taken down," McAden said.

McAden said architect John Merkle, who was hired by the commission via a grant in 2005 to see if the building was worth saving, said it was in "fine condition with the exception of cosmetics." McAden said the board is not against the building being relocated but members do not want to see it gone from Hampton's landscape.

She believes the town should retain ownership and use it as a community center/meeting house, as recommended last year by Plan NH, a nonprofit organization that hosted a planning charette for the town.

Welch said selectmen will have the ultimate say on what becomes of the building once it's taken down.

"If we keep the structure's frame, the board will have to decide what to do with it and where to put it," Welch said.

He also added there would be a cost associated with reconstructing the building for which the taxpayers would have to foot the bill. Voters have already rejected one idea for adaptive reuse — to move the court building to act as an addition to the town fire station — in 2006.

McAden said it is important that the town save the building.

"This is one of the buildings that was a part of the original downtown," she said. "It's also the oldest government building in town."

The building has been a part of town history since 1873. According to archives from Lane Memorial Library, the building was originally built at a cost of $4,484 where the current Centre School is located.

In 1922, the building was moved to its current location, and through the years served at one time or another as Hampton's grammar school, the American Legion Post 35 hall, Fire Station 2 and, finally, Hampton District Court.

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