PARIS — The expansion plans at the Oxford County Courthouse complex can continue to move forward after the Planning Board gave approval for the multi-million project, which is estimated to be complete by summer 2019.
The primarily state-funded project was given the green light at the Tuesday, July 11 Paris Planning Board meeting. It includes erecting a two-story, 11,000-square-foot addition to the existing courthouse building, renovations to the interior of the existing building and extensive reconfiguration of traffic flow and parking areas on the county campus, located on Western Avenue, according to the report submitted to the town by Walsh Engineering Associates.
The Oxford County campus currently consists of four buildings – the county building, District Court, County Jail and a garage-size outbuilding.
The addition will be built northwest of the current courthouse, according to Paris Code Enforcement Officer Kingston Brown.
“It is going to have that Corinthian pillar look,” he said, with double pillars on either side of the single public entrance. “They are going to remove these [existing] steps [that span the hill and] shift them over.
“They are basically going to pretty the place up and make it more secure and when I say secure, I do mean security-wise,” Brown continued, adding the project includes a $30,000 metal detecting system. “It has been a long time coming.”
Oxford County Administrator Scott Cole confirmed security is the driving force behind the project, which is spearheaded by the state.
“The judiciary branch of state government – they’ve been pursuing a multi-year, even decades-long effort to … get all the courthouses up to modern security standards,” he said, noting this includes keeping parties separate and protecting everyone.
This is part of a three-prong, $90 million package funded by the Legislature, which also includes courthouse projects in York and Waldo counties, according to Cole.
The Oxford County project is estimated to cost $9.52 million with $7.94 million for the structure itself and $1.58 million for site work. The state has secured a $12 million bond from the State of Maine Administrative Office of Courts to pay for it.
Upgrades will include two new courtrooms, judge’s chambers, offices, meeting rooms and improved circulation around the building.
There will be 137 parking spaces once the project is complete, as the parking lot and access aisles will be upgraded to increase these spaces and reduce the hill’s slopes to improve safety. Parking and traffic reconfiguration includes erecting another full-size parking lot, creating a single point of access off of Western Avenue and creating a second entrance on Western Promenade for staff only.
Additionally, a new storm water collection system will be built to transport runoff to the existing storm drainage system on Western Avenue.
“An underground detention system will be designed in the public parking area to reduce peak flow rates from the site to near existing conditions so as to not impact the municipal storm sewers in the street,” the Walsh Engineering Associates report reads.
Brown reported there was some concern expressed during the Planning Board meeting about emergency vehicle traffic going in and out of the complex.
“Nothing [will] affect traffic dramatically. [There will be] no sirens going off at 2 in the morning. They don’t do that already,” he said.
To create the access road leading to the new parking lot and staff entrance, the county had to purchase houses that line the complex property.
“We got three purchased deeds recorded and a fourth – the commissioners just OK’d a deal yesterday. And we’re going to hopefully buy one more [house] at town assessed value,” Cole said. “The access road is coming up on the left side of the building from the bottom, so we need to the road, we need to slope it, we need drainage. … All those pine trees will be cut.”
Thus far, the county has spent more than $600,000 on the four properties, and the state is supposed to reimburse the county 50 percent for the land purchases.
“We may not see the full 50 [percent] because we had to make deals about the housing – the state just wants the land,” Cole said. “In order to facilitate access to the land, we need people’s backyards. … The [County] Commissioners are willing to spend some money because it is a once-in-a-century event right now.”
Since Cole and the commissioners did not – and still don’t know – the total financial impact, the project was not included in the current budget. The project money came from reserves and the complete impact on taxpayers will be presented to the county Budget Committee this fall. Each property purchase has a multi-year payment schedule, ranging from five to seven years, to lessen the impact on taxpayers, Cole said.
The projected time line includes the final design plans going out to bid in early 2018, with construction commencing in summer 2018. The project is expected to be complete by summer 2019.