October 12, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Courting more space
By†Dan Szczesny

Itís been debated for years, but it looks as though the state will finally move the North Main Street Merrimack County Superior Court to the Hazen Drive complex on the east side of the river. The judicial branch has asked lawmakers to fund a $20 million relocation.

Clearly the move is justified. Despite the beauty of the building, its space constraints have become ridiculous. There is no secure path to get prisoners to the building, there are too few conference rooms to handle caseloads and employees are frequently found bundled in winter jackets during the cold months because space heaters occasionally shut down the courtís computer system.

Thatís no way to run the court, and a relocation is far overdue.

The issue for Concord officials is whether the court should move or the city should help with an in-place expansion. Mayor Michael Donovan would like to look more closely at expansion. He and other city officials fear that if the courthouse moves out of downtown, the city will lose revenue downtown revenue from people who work at or visit the courthouse.

The mayor is right to point out that a proper study has not been done. Thatís typical of the state. Considering the concessions made and resources contributed by Concord over the years, youíd think the state would have more respect for its home town. It does not, but thatís another story.

However, the drastic conclusion that without state facilities Concordís downtown would dry up is unfounded. While the court employs plenty of folks who use downtown, it is not a downtown attraction. Visitors do not plan day trips to the court house. It is not promoted by visitors bureaus.

As a court house, that buildingís use is finite. But as a museum? Or an auditorium? Or a retail complex? Thatís what city officials should want. The mayor should immediately begin a dialog with the county, the buildingís owner, to redevelop that space into one that people will want to visit. What would you like the Merrimack County Superior Court building turned into? Let me know at dszczesny@hippopress.com