Thursday, April 07, 2011

Update on Superior Court re-use

Top officials of the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), the state agency responsible for all state-owned buildings, traveled to Lowell this past Tuesda at the invitation of the city’s state house delegation to discuss the future of the Middlesex Superior Courthouse on Gorham Street once the new Judicial Center is completed. Plans for the Judicial Center are to be finalized this summer, work is to begin next year, and the structure is to be completed sometime in 2014. At that time, the Superior and District Courts will move into that building.

Peter Norstrand, the DCAM Deputy Commissioner, told those at yesterday’s meeting that the law requires DCAM to first inquire whether any state agency has an interest in using the vacated building. If there is such interest, DCAM can transfer responsibility to the interested agency. If no one in state government has an interest, then the city is offered the same opportunity. If the city is not interested, then DCAM will seek Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from private developers interested in taking on the building.

Normally, DCAM would wait until the building was vacated to begin this reuse process, but Norstrand said that because of all the concern shown in Lowell about the future of the Superior Courthouse, he will accelerate the “polling” process and have it begin this summer. This will allow any other state agency that is interested in using the building time to request funding from the legislature in the coming year’s budget.

It’s unclear where the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will be located. The only certainty is that it will not be in the new Judicial Center since that will be exclusively for the use of the Trial Court. There’s a remote possibility the registry could remain in the Superior Courthouse as a tenant of whoever takes over the building, but more likely it will end up leasing space in a privately owned building. (Because so much of the registry’s functions have been transferred to computers, the office will only require about 10,000 square feet of space, plus some additional non-public storage areas).

The main reason that many folks in Lowell are so concerned so early in the process about the future of the Superior Courthouse is that we’re familiar with what happened in Worcester. There, little consideration was given to the existing courthouse until after their new Judicial Center was constructed and all entities moved from the old to the new. The old building, a beautiful structure that overlooks the downtown, was closed up and allowed to linger until early in this past winter when an auction was held to sell the building to a private developer. When only one bidder emerged from the process, DCAM canceled the auction and now the fate of the building is uncertain. As challenging as it may be to find a future use for the Lowell Superior Courthouse, no one wants it to follow the same path taken by its counterpart in Worcester.

The Lowell Sun published a story about this meeting.

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