Legislature OKs bill to donate historic courthouse to state Trial Court

  • The Hampshire County Courthouse, as seen from Gothic Street in Northampton, is home to the Hampshire Council of Governments. Photographed on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/21/2019 6:11:25 PM
Modified: 11/21/2019 6:11:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The eventual dissolution of the Hampshire Council of Governments has left the state sorting through its assets and financial obligations.

Early Thursday, the Legislature passed a bill that would transfer ownership of the historic Hampshire County Courthouse from the council to the state Trial Court.

It was part of a “massive” last session, the last formal one of 2019, that kept lawmakers in the State House past midnight, said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

The building transfer is on the condition that the grounds remain open and that the historic items in the building remain available to the public. If the trial court tells the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance it doesn’t want the property, the state can sell it or lease it through a competitive bidding process.

“Trial court wants it. This is our hoped-for solution all along,” said Comerford, who filed the original Senate bill that later got broken into smaller bills, including this recent one.

A spokesperson for the trial court declined to comment on the legislation.

Comerford said the 19th-century building at 99 Main St. would continue to be protected and preserved.

It’s particularly important that the issue is worked out before winter, she said.

“With HCG staff all but one gone, there isn’t anyone to maintain the outside of the building,” she said. “I was thinking to myself, what happens if it snows? Who shovels? What happens if it gets well below freezing?”

Gov. Charlie Baker has not signed the legislation.

The state has assumed the council’s health care responsibilities, Comerford said, but there are other issues to be worked out before it dissolves.

“We need to do the same thing for the pensions,” she said, with unfunded liabilities of approximately $6 million. “We’re working on that now.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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