FARMINGTON — County Commissioners approved contracting with architects Thursday for a plan to correct some safety problems within the Franklin County Courthouse. Commissioners held a specially convened meeting to deal with a list of nine deficiencies they recently received from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Standing in the center of town for about 200 years, the Franklin County Courthouse, home of county offices and the County’s Superior Court, was inspected by Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell and a state fire marshal inspector in January, who found life-safety issues that need to be addressed, Bell told Commissioners.
Along with some handicap access and smaller issues, the most pressing concerns involve the exits from the second floor Superior Court in case of a fire. Wooden stairwells on both ends of the building are not enclosed and open from the basement up, a fire escape on the back of the building is open and not maintained.
If a fire should break out in the basement with smoke rising up the stairs, people in the court could have trouble getting out of the building, said Noel Smith from Smith Reuter Lull Architects.
While some smaller issues such as using hallways for storage and posting signs are being undertaken by Greg Roux, courthouse custodian, he urged the commissioners to consider having a plan drawn up for more extensive work needed for approval by the Fire Marshal’s Office.
Response plans and expected correction dates for each deficiency has already been sent to the Fire Marshal’s Office by County Clerk Julie Magoon.
Realizing that bringing the building up to code would be difficult but wanting to ensure the safety of the public using the building, commissioners contracted with the architectural firm for no more than $3,000 for a plan of action that can be undertaken quickly to at least fix the problems on a temporary basis.
Complicating the issue are proposed plans, conceived over the past several months, to consider moving the county offices out of the building. The architects also showed commissioners proposed floor plans for turning the Church Street Commons into county offices, which would leave the courthouse free for state judicial needs. A plan that will come before voters in a November referendum.
If the plan is approved, the state court system may want to renovate the courthouse and be more inclined to support and invest in long-term corrections and changes within the building. The Franklin County court is on the list for renovations, District Attorney Norm Croteau said.
If the court system takes on the building, renovations for security would have to be undertaken. Commissioners said they should do what is needed for now. The extent of current fixes could be reversible to meet the court’s needs.
There is a good possibility of receiving grant funds to help with the handicap issues while funds for the plan could be taken from the building contingency fund, Magoon said.