Report: Former court needs a total overhaul

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by Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, November 25, 2011

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

HAMPTON — A recent review of the vacant Hampton District Court building shows that if it's ever to be used again, the century-old Winnacunnet Road facility would have to be gutted to the frame.

Fire Chief Chris Silver looked at renovating the historic building on Winnacunnet Road to temporarily house the Fire Department's administrative offices. After touring the building with an engineer in early November, Silver said the costs involved in bring the building back would be significant, and he would oppose it.

"I can't support a plan that suggests a use deteriorating building," Silver said.

Selectmen suggested Silver look at using the building in October after hearing from town's Heritage Commission members, who said they would like to save the building from demolition.

The board thought the idea of rehabilitating the building would kill two birds with one stone, as they were looking to cut costs from a $7.5 million two-fire station plan the town's voters had rejected.

But after hearing from Silver, selectmen unanimously agreed that the old court is no longer viable for the Fire Department's needs.

The board, however, is back to square one on what to do with the old building that has been vacant since 2005.

"The building is a disaster because of neglect," Selectman Mike Pierce said. "People want to save it, but nobody wants to step up to the plate with an idea on what to do with it. If it's not going to be used, then it should be bulldozed."

Silver said one of the new issues discovered during the recent tour of the building is the failing roof, where water is seeping into the building.

"There is now water damage inside of the building, and, as a result of that, the environment of the building is ripe for mold growth," Silver said.

He estimates that it would cost $800,000 to renovate the facility, and the majority of the building would need to be gutted, leaving just the frame of the building.

Selectman Chairman Richard Nichols said he could not support spending that much money in this case.

"It was too much money for something that was going to be interim," said Nichols.

The chairman, however, is not yet sold on the idea the building should be demolished.

Nichols said he would like to have the building inspector to look at the roof.

"If there is a problem, then I think it needs to be understood," Nichols said. "I'm not in favor of taking it down just for the sake of taking it down. Just because the fire headquarters didn't work out as an adaptive use, doesn't mean that something else may not come along."

Nichols said if the roof can be repaired — and if it's a simple fix — it should be done now.

"On the other hand if the roof is degrading, (and it's an expensive fix), the decision may be made for us," Nichols said.

The building was originally constructed in 1873 on the site where Centre School currently sits. It was moved to the Winnacunnet Road location in the 1920s.

The building has served as home to Hampton's public kindergarten, the American Legion Post No. 35 hall, Fire Station 2 and, finally, Hampton District Court.

The building has been vacant since 2005, when the court moved due to problems with mold and fleas.

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