To Court Or Not To Court?

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By Scott E. Kinney, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, February 3, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

HAMPTON -- It has served as a meeting house and a school house. It was once a home for the American Legion and served as a fire station. In more recent years, it was home to the Hampton District Court.

But, is it worth preserving?

Voters will have the opportunity to have their voices heard on the matter in the coming March election. Residents will be faced with the decision of incorporating the now-empty building as part of an expansion project for the Winnacunnet Road fire station at a cost of $250,000.

The Heritage Commission hired John Merkle, of TMS Architects in Portsmouth, to assess the building and come up with a renovation plan. Merkle was an architect involved with another well-known seacoast renovation project; the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle.

Elizabeth Aykroyd, chairman for the Heritage Commission, said Merkle's report found the building's historic value still intact and that he favored the preservation of the building.

Aykroyd said the renovation would save a building in an area already "thinned out" by the removal of historic properties. The inside of the building would be altered to suit the needs of fire administration while maintaining its historic exterior.

"We think it's a good use for the building," said Aykroyd.

A "no" vote would mean the end for a building that has been part of Hampton since 1873.

The board of selectmen recommended the building become part of the fire station and voted for the move to be put on the ballot. However, the Budget Committee does not support the article.

Budget Committee member Bill Lally said he agrees that preserving the old courthouse is important, but he doesn't believe that attaching it to the fire station is the best move.

"I just think that money could be spent in a wiser fashion," said Lally.

The building was vacated last year when New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice John Broderick decided the building has proved to be a health hazard.

Infestations of mold and fleas along with the lack of wheelchair access triggered the move. Hampton District Court is currently making its temporary home in Seabrook.

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