ATTLEBORO -- The Attleboro District Court building, constructed at the turn of last century, could be in store for millions of dollars in renovations if funding is ever approved for a proposed plan by the state Trial Court.
The 107-year-old building on North Main Street, also known as the James H. Sullivan Courthouse, is one of five courthouses in the state in critical need of renovations over the next five years. The renovations for Attleboro are estimated at $47.8 million, according to a draft of the state Trial Court master plan.
The state Trial Court and the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance will seek legislative approval for bonds to fund the estimated $3.16 billion in renovations, repairs and construction of new courthouses statewide over 20 or more years, according to the recently released 161-page report.
The Bristol County-owned Attleboro District Court, according to the plan, is among the courts whose repairs have priority because they are the most deficient and overcrowded. It is one of the more busier suburban courthouses in the state, handling between 10,000 to 25,000 cases annually, according to the report.
While the main portion of the building is more than 100 years old, even the additions to the building are well over 50 years old. The roof is leaking in some areas, causing paint to peel and staining ceilings. A seating area in the main courtroom had to be roped off this week to make room for scaffolding set up for some of the repairs.
A fire in 2008 not only damaged an office and a courtroom but also exposed the building’s deficiencies under modern building and fire codes. A gaudy metal stairway fire escape was built on the side of the building to comply with fire codes because the building lacks a sprinkler system.
The building has an outdated heating and air conditioning system and prisoner lockup. It has no elevator and is not compliant with other requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Workers attempting to install new recording equipment inside one of the courtrooms had to stop after discovering asbestos in the floor tiles.
Staff is crammed into its offices and lawyers have to talk to their clients in hallways because there are no private meeting quarters.
Unlike modern courthouses like the Fall River Justice Center, which opened in 2010, and the court complex in Taunton, which opened a year later, prisoners and judges in Attleboro have to walk in public hallways, raising safety concerns.
Jurors deliberate in a small room with one bathroom at the rear of a second-floor courtroom. The jury pool room is adjacent to the lockup facility and court officers have to keep the window shade closed so potential jurors won’t see prisoners brought to court by deputy sheriffs.
The master plan does not specifically detail the renovations for the Attleboro court, but a court spokeswoman said they will address public and staff accommodations, courtrooms, detainee areas and other building needs.
“I’m happy that in the plan, as publicly disseminated, the Attleboro District Court appears to be one of the priority courts. We look forward to any improvements and working with authorities to get those improvements completed,” said Attleboro District Court First Justice Daniel O’Shea.
The Wrentham District Court, a Norfolk County-owned building built in 1951, is also slated for repairs and renovations. The first phase calls for $566,000 in repairs to the make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and $11.2 million years down the road to address maintenance and other repairs.
The two courthouses are among the 97 statewide, over half of which are over 50 years old and in need of substantial repairs and modernization, according to the report.
“The majority of the courthouses in Massachusetts are in a state of disrepair due to inadequate major repairs and capital investment over the past few decades. While attentive management has improved the maintenance of the courthouses in the past three years, this alone is proving insufficient to eliminate the backlog of facility issues,” the reports says.
“Public court users and staff regularly conduct the business of the Massachusetts Judiciary in circumstances that prompt significant liability risk and contradict the assertion that we are a Commonwealth honoring the rule of law and access to justice,” according to the report.
Harry Spence, the trial court administrator wrote that the plan “represents a recommendation at a given point in time for the judiciary and it certainly will need to evolve as the trial court continues to implement dynamic technological change and new initiatives for serving the commonwealth.”
Court officials expect to make changes and will issue a final plan later this year.
The trial court wants the public to offer comments about the master plan. Comments can be submitted electronically on letterhead with your address or organization by Friday, May 26, 2017 to MP.Public.Comments@jud.state.ma.us.