County addressing fire safety, access problems at courthouse

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FARMINGTON — A list of fire safety and accessibility violations found in the Franklin County Courthouse are being addressed with the price tag expected to exceed $50,000, county commissioners were told Tuesday.

On Tuesday, commissioners learned that one of the violations that will require all door knobs and locks to be replaced with accessible hardware will have a side benefit other than being an aid to people with disabilities.

The new hardware, which will cost $2,645, will be installed in all entrance and office doors. Commissioners agreed to take this opportunity, at the urging of state judicial officials, to discontinue the long-held practice of giving keys to the building to attorneys and legal aides doing deed research on weekends and after-hours.

According to Registrar of Deed Susan Black, 25 keys are in the possession of non-county employees.

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“The (Office of the Court) was appalled to know that that many keys were out there and strongly advised us to discontinue that practice,” said County Clerk Julie Magoon.

“Security is the number one issue of the state court and limiting access to these facilities is critical,” she said. “The state has made it very clear and Chief Justice Leigh Saufley has said it over and over again.”

Black said the change should not inconvience researchers since all the data is accessible online.

The funds to pay for the Courthouse upgrades will come from the county’s contingency fund; the commissioners 2010-11 proposed budget; and a grant through the state Administrative Office of the Courts that helps counties comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act when addressing accessibility violations.

The deficiencies were first uncovered during an unannounced inspection by the State Fire Marshal’s Office and ADA inspectors in January. Work to correct the violations are now well underway, said Greg Roux, the maintenance director for the courthouse in his report to commissioners on Tuesday.

Among the projects that are either completed or ongoing: 230 boxes of files in storage have been removed or shredded; filing cabinets have been moved out of access corridors; illuminated exit signs have have been installed; and the furnace room sealed so it is separated from the rest of the building, Roux said.

Also the concrete-lined doors into the walk-in storage vault in the basement that are used by the District Attorney’s Office will be removed and replaced with self-closing doors wired into the smoke alarm system. Roux said the work is estimated to cost $7,500.

The fire sprinkler system was also targeted by the fire marshal. An obstruction test on March 16 was done and the system failed, Roux said. Now, the sprinklers must be flushed to remove built-up loose scale, a job that has not been done in memory, for an estimated $10,000 to $14,000.

The most extensive work will be to provide two, fire-code approved exits from each floor in the three-story building. Currently, the 19th Century structure that houses the superior court and county administrative offices has two, open, wooden stairwells that the fire marshal found to be fire hazards.

Each set of stairs must be enclosed by one-hour, fire-rated walls, a project being designed by Smith Reuter Lull Architects from Lewiston. The construction would be put out to bid and completed within six months, Roux said.

Also, non-compliant guardrails and balusters on all stairs and entrances into the building are replaced.

In other matters Tuesday, commissioners took no action on a request from Wendell and Mahlon Voter of Strong to hold a property-tax abatement hearing. The Voters appealed to the commissioners when a similar request was turned down by selectmen in Strong on the advice of Tax Assessor Robert Worthley.

Attending Tuesday’s meeting were the Voters, their attorney, Richard Stearns of Skowhegan, and Strong selectmen Clyde Barker and Mary White.

“It seems to be more of a road issue rather than a property value dispute,” said Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon.

The Voters’ next option is to take their appeal to Superior Court, said Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay.

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