Courthouse Vandalized

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Demolishing the vacant building mulled

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, October 7, 2011

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

The vacant old Hampton District Court was recently vandalized with graffiti. Patrick Cronin photo

HAMPTON — The vacant old Hampton District Court was vandalized with graffiti. Someone spray painted the words "Jesus Loves" on the side of the building, causing selectmen to once again discuss the future of the century-old building on Winnacunnet Road.

After learning it was vandalized, several selectmen said the town should either commit to refurbishing the building or demolish it.

"Something has to be done," said Selectman Bill Lally said. "Fix it or get rid of it. Right now it's just decaying. It decays more every year."

Town Manager Fred Welch said the building was "tagged" on three sides of the building and on the foundation.

"I was offended when I went down to look at it because whoever did it, added additional spray paint that refers to the lord," Welch said. "I don't think the lord spray paints. So someone should use better judgment."

Welch said they plan to remove the paint and they have filed a report with the Police Department.

"We are asking anyone who has information on who is responsible for this to contact the Police Department," Welch said.

The building has been vacant since 2005, when the state decided to relocate the court because of the condition of the building.

At the time, employees complained it was infested with mold and it had to be fumigated more than once for fleas.

Lally said the recent vandalism is a problem. But an even bigger problem, he said, is the century-old building has become more of an eyesore now that the old Town Hall has been demolished.

Most of the board agreed with Lally that something should be done but before they make any decision they want hear from town's Heritage Commission.

The town's Heritage Commission was strongly against plans to demolish the building several years ago.

The commission even hired architect John Merkle via a grant in 2005 to see if the building was worth saving. The report back to the board was that it was in "fine condition with the exception of cosmetics."

But since that report was complete, there has been no movement by any group in town to use the building.

Selectman Mike Pierce said if the commission is no longer interested in restoring the building, then it should be demolished.

"The building is rotting," said Pierce. "If nobody comes forward then I think it would be in the best interest for the town to level it."

The Heritage Commission was previously interested in saving the building because it was historically significant.

The building has been a part of town history since 1873. According to archives from Lane Memorial Library, the building was built where the current Centre School is located at a cost of $4,485.

In 1922, the building was moved to its current location, and through the years served at one time or another as Hampton's public kindergarten, the American Legion Post No. 35 hall, Fire Station 2 and, finally, Hampton District Court.

Since its closure in 2005, Welch said the building has been broken into several times and there is still a mold problem.

"Right now the building is serving no purpose," said Selectman Jerry Znoj.

"Not to mention that it's crawling with spiders and rats," Lally said.

Welch said the building is also on a valuable piece of land. Even if the town didn't want to demolish it, he believes it should be moved to another location where it could be utilized.

But Pierce said that might be cost prohibitive.

Several years ago, members of the community suggested using the building as a senior/community center during a public forum hosted by Plan NH, a nonprofit organization that hosted a planning charette for the town in 2006.

Those plans never came to fruition.

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