Where’s the money for courthouse fixes? Competition across state fierce

  • Ronald John Alex, right, who is the president of Boston Bay Architects, speaks about the condition of the old section of the Hampshire County Courthouse during a tour in October. Here, they see the tower of the building. State Reps. John Scibak, Peter Kocot and Stephen Kulik, left, were among those who took the tour. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Todd Ford, left, who is the executive director of the Hampshire Council of Governments, leads a tour of the old section of the Hampshire County Courthouse, Friday.

Published: 11/3/2016 10:58:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Inside the dark and decrepit interior of the courthouse center tower that lords above downtown’s busy streets, sunlight shines through several small holes in the ceiling. There’s rotting floorboards, punctuated by bird droppings, and a gaping hole in the exposed brick wall. A bird skeleton lay beneath the rickety wooden staircase.

These are familiar sights for the caretakers of the Hampshire County Courthouse, located at 99 Main St., and they are now known to members of the county legislative delegation who toured the building last month and saw the deterioration of the historic structure up close.

Yet repairs are in limbo, despite $4 million from a state capital bond secured for the project at the end of the last legislative session. So far, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance has only released $500,000 of that sum, which was used to restore the courthouse steps as well as the building’s portico roofs.

Building stewards and legislators are holding their breath on whether they will ever see the remainder of that money. For concerned lawmakers and courthouse officials, this begs the question: what’s the delay?

Garrett Quinn, spokesman for the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, said in an email that there are projects worth altogether more than $27 billion, including the Hampshire County Courthouse, in bond bills. But Gov. Charlie Baker’s capital plan for fiscal 2017 is just over $2 billion.

“The issues with any bond funds … is that you’re in competition with every other capital project,” said state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, in an interview. “Technically, the release of these funds is in competition with bond caps for road and bridge projects, state parks (and) colleges.”

In any one year, Kocot added, “you’re never going to satisfy all of the agencies.”

Kocot, along with fellow lawmakers including Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and John Scibak, D-South Hadley, took last month’s tour of the center tower — a portion of the building that is closed to the general public. The Hampshire Council of Governments is headquartered in the building and is leading its restoration efforts.

Todd Ford, executive director of the Hampshire Council of Governments, concedes that competition for state financial resources is steep, but that the proposal to reinvigorate the courthouse is competitive with other projects.

“I think the project is highly competitive for state resources,” Ford said. “I think the challenge is sharing the acute need for the project with those who probably concentrate more on eastern Massachusetts projects.”

Courthouse officials spearheading the renovation efforts have explored “basically every single way to raise funds,” Ford said, including historic tax credits.

“We didn’t just jump to the state bond process,” he added. “It was at the end of a very long list of funding due diligence.”

During the Oct. 21 tour with lawmakers, Rosenberg asked Ford and the project’s chief architect, Ronald Alex, of Boston Bay Architects, to put together a revised budget report that spelled out which portions of the renovations could be done concurrently, and which portions could be done sequentially.

That report is expected to be sent to the Senate president’s office by Friday, Ford said.

“Once we receive (the report), we will approach the administration and see if we can work out a plan,” Rosenberg said in an interview. “This is entirely in the hands of the administration as to if they release the money and how much they release.”

Previously, Ford also stressed the risks the courthouse’s quickly deteriorating condition poses to public safety — the falling tiles, the fractured lead flashing, the severed wind vane — something he hopes the state will take note of.

Kocot echoed that sentiment: “I think it’s pretty clear to a layman, not even a construction expert, that (the courthouse) really needs a lot of work,” he said.

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at mmajchrowicz@gazettenet.com.



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