Court's Future Up To Voters

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By Brendan McCaughey

Hampton Union, Friday, January 27, 2006

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

HAMPTON -- The fate of the town's historic courthouse will be in the voters' hands come March 14.

The old courthouse could become part of the new fire station on Winnacunnet Road if voters support it along with the fire station article.

The building, which has been a part of Hampton since 1873, is in great need of renovations before it can be used for any public purpose, according to the town's Heritage Commission. If voters vote no on the article, the building will be demolished.

The Heritage Commission hired John Merkle, of TMS Architects in Portsmouth, to look at the courthouse and help with a renovation plan. Merkle was an architect for renovation of the Wentworth by the Sea hotel in New Castle.

Elizabeth Aykroyd, chairman of the Heritage Commission, said Merkle is interested in seeing the building saved.

"Hampton has lost so much of its historic center," Aykroyd said. "It would be a shame to let another historic building go when we don't have to."

According to Aykroyd, most of the building's problems are cosmetic. The building could be made handicapped-accessible by simply adding a wheelchair ramp. The building itself, once a fire station, was made to accommodate a fire truck.

The idea to make the old courthouse part of the plan for the new fire station was presented by Selectman Ben Moore and was recommended by the Board of Selectmen for the March ballot. The Budget Committee, however, did not recommend the article.

Michael Plouffe, vice chairman of the Budget Committee, stressed priority should be placed on the new fire station, and he said he does not think the public would want to spend the extra money to renovate and relocate the courthouse considering the estimated cost could change.

"When you start renovating a building, the cost can really escalate," Plouffe said.

Plouffe has said if voters want to support the courthouse article, they can still show their support for it.

"Hopefully the town will decide to keep some of its historic flavor," Moore said.

The decision regarding the historic building will ultimately come down to the voters this March.

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