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Almost in session: Merrimack County Superior Courthouse nears opening

  • Steve Duprey begins the tour of the new Merrimack County Superior Court on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 in downtown Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The new medium-sized courtroom is seen Tuesday at the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The entry way as seen from the second floor of the new Merrimack County Superior Court off of Court Street in Concord on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The old courthouse as seen from the second floor of the new Merrimack County Superior Court in downtown Concord on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • People arrive for a tour of the new Merrimack County Superior Courthouse on Court Street in Concord on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The judge desk along with the witness desk at the new Merrimack County Superior Court during the tour of the new facility on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord City Manager Thomas J. Aspell, Jr. (left) looks over the judge’s table as others file in the large courtroom at the new Merrimack County Superior Court on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 in downtown Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord City Councilor Dan St. Hilaire (right) shakes hands with Steve Duprey in the new lobby of the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse.

  • Concord City Manager Thomas J. Aspell, Jr. looks into the holding cell at the Merrimack County Courthouse on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

After years of debate, Merrimack County’s courthouse is in the home stretch.

Developer Steve Duprey said the building will be turned over to the county sometime within the next week, with a move-in date projected for sometime in November. The only work left is some final inspections and moving in the furniture.

The old and the new court buildings couldn’t be more different – the old courthouse with its stately columns and dark-paneled wood contrasts with the new courthouse featuring glass panels and high, open ceilings, which offer an airy and light feel.

The new building has three courtrooms, just like the last courthouse, but they vary in size. It is roughly 2,000 square feet larger than the current structure and it also has a sallyport.

The 35,000-square-foot building practically sprung up overnight, compared to the decadeslong conversation about where the county’s new courthouse should land. Officials have been calling for a new courthouse since the 1990s, but other projects, like a new superior court in Cheshire County and a women’s prison, took precedence.

Duprey pitched what was known as the Sanel Block as a possible site in 2008, but he and the county backed out of that plan.

It wasn’t until then-Gov. Maggie Hassan set aside $18 million for the project in 2015 – which was later whittled down to $16.6 million by the Legislature the following year – that things began to take off. Proposals for new sites included the former Department of Employment Security building and a space on Hazen Drive.

But county and city officials, along with Duprey, pushed to keep the building downtown, saying Duprey could do the project for about $15.7 million, about $900,000 cheaper.

And in 2016, the Legislature killed a bill that would have moved the location to Hazen Drive. By February 2017, Duprey’s contract was signed.

Even though construction was delayed by a few months from June to September 2017, Duprey said the project would be finished months before what the state was projecting and will be much cheaper. And even though the contract gave the courthouse clerk complete control over when work could occur – there was concern about construction disrupting sensitive court recording devices – construction was only stopped about a dozen times, he said.

Additional fireproofing of the building and disposal of bad soils raised costs by roughly $200,000 – money Duprey had to cover due to the terms of the contract. He said the structure had to be draped in tarps and the inside heated to 40 degrees during the winter to allow the fireproofing material to conform to the building’s steel beams, a process that took about 3½ weeks.

And while the county had to buy the parking lot behind the courthouse from Duprey for about $300,000, Duprey said he had to put about $340,000 worth of work into the parcel.

“It was a project with substantial risk,” he said. “But still worthwhile in the end.”

But that’s not to say money won’t be earned from the project – Duprey said the county will buy the building from him for about $14.2 million. Then, the state will buy the courthouse from the county to the tune of about $15.7 million.

The difference between those numbers will be split between Duprey and the county.

 

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)