By Susan Morse and Patrick J. Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, December 19, 2004
HAMPTON - As the state views temporary locations for a new district courthouse, Hampton and Seabrook officials are vying to get the permanent building located in their town.
On Wednesday, Seabrook Town Manager Fred Welch suggested voters approve a bond article this March to build a district courthouse on town land off Route 107. The state would pay the principal and interest on the bond.
This proactive move would mean funding would already be in place for the state to locate to Seabrook, Welch indicated, making it the most attractive choice.
"If voters approve it, it would clear the decks as far as spending is concerned," Welch said.
"We'll need as much ammunition as we can get," said Rep. Frank Palazzo, R-Seabrook.
Palazzo made his comments at the Seabrook selectmen's meeting on Wednesday after it was revealed the state Supreme Court had no idea Seabrook has long offered town land off Route 107 at no cost to the state for a permanent location for a new district court.
"I took the liberty of telephoning and discussing the district court problem with the chief justice," Welch wrote in a Dec. 15 memo to Seabrook selectmen. Welch said he offered possible temporary locations for the new court, including the library, the fire station, the former Collins Street firehouse and the old Brown Library.
"I also discussed the offer by the town to allow the state to build a new courthouse in Seabrook on donated land," Welch wrote. "The courts were never notified of that possibility by the representatives that visited us from the state Legislature and the Office of the Commissioner of Administration."
"Apparently, someone in the Legislature kept it a secret," Selectman Karen Knight said on Wednesday.
Under Welch's bond plan, the state would prepare the building plans, the town would fund them through the bond issue, and the state would pay the town the principal and interest for the life of the bond. The court facility would be given to the town when the state was through with it, at no cost to Seabrook.
Seabrook's position has Hampton officials looking for a way to trump the offer, to keep the district court in town.
It's advantageous to have a local courthouse, town officials have said, to save money in time and staffing in getting police officers to the court.
At the Hampton District Court on Thursday, officials in towns served by the district court met with the state Court Accreditation Committee to discuss a temporary location.
The current district court on Winnacunnet Road is full of mold, was infested with fleas and is not wheelchair accessible.
State Administrative Services Commissioner Don Hill said Thursday none of the five suggested temporary locations in town are viable.
For a permanent site, Hampton Town Manager James Barrington has offered the state the current courthouse location for a new building. He has also suggested the former Newick's restaurant property on Lafayette Road.
Barrington said Friday Hampton resident Jack Lessard has purchased the vacant Newick's, and has expressed a willingness to build a courthouse there.
Lessard could not be reached for comment.