Laconia Courthouse - The Citizen of Laconia Article
Laconia District court begins its move
By BEA LEWIS
The Laconia District Court is moving this week from its temporary quarters at The Citizen building, 171 Fair St., back to its newly renovated home at 26 Academy Square.
"It's one big courthouse where we all work together," said Laconia District Court Clerk Diane Lane.
Both the district court and the family division, which handles juvenile, marital and family matters, now will be housed in the Laconia District Courthouse.
The former Laconia High School, built in 1886, has undergone $4.3 million worth of expansion and renovations and will now house three courtrooms. One, on the third floor in the school's one-time gym, will reserved exclusively for juvenile, marital and family matters, explained Lane.
Meridian Construction Corporation of Laconia was the general contractor on the project. Lane credits architect Keith Hemingway of Plymouth for designing the building so that old architecture and craftsmanship was replicated in the new portions of the structure.
Nowhere is that old-world craftsmanship more evident than in the oak newel post and railings on the main staircase that reaches all the way to the third floor, portions of which overlook Lake Winnisquam. Workmen also replicated the school's original wainscoting throughout the building.
New features at the courthouse include an x-ray machine that will allow the security staff to remotely screen handbags, briefcases and other larger items being brought into the building, improving efficiency and security.
Lane said that, because the building was the former high school, she hopes local students will come and visit to see justice in action, perhaps one of the best ways to learn about the judicial process, she said. She hopes to see mock trials in one of the courtrooms, giving high school students a hands-on look at the inner workings of the state's judicial system.
Some of the specialty items built into the newly renovated courthouse, Lane explained, include light switches in secure areas so the lights cannot be switched off during a hearing by a disgruntled person, as well as a miniature elevator between floors to securely move court files.
The large windows in the courthouse have been replaced but Lane expressed pleasure that the new ones can be opened to let in fresh air and sunshine on appropriate days.
The courthouse also is equipped with restrooms on all floors, including a family bathroom; and there are a number of conference rooms, allowing clients and their lawyers to meet comfortably in privacy.
Lane, who is completing her eighth year as clerk, said it is especially rewarding to have been here during the inception of the project and then to have the opportunity to see it through to completion.
She recalled community leaders gathering to support the project when it was in its infancy and former Belknap County Sheriff Dan Colis traveling to Concord to testify on its behalf.
Lane said the many conference rooms in the building will allow the courthouse to play host to meetings by such groups as the Family Violence Prevention Council.
"For the first time we're going to be able to have the space to be able to invite groups in," she said.
It still is hard for Lane to imagine that the courthouse went from one floor to four, noting that the new building has a completely renovated basement that houses a holding area for defendants, a lunch room and staff lounge for employees, file storage and an office for Building Supervisor Kevin Crutchfield.
Courtroom one is to be dedicated to Senior Active Judge David O. Huot and a plaque and portrait of Huot will be hung there once the New Hampshire Arts Council decides where various pieces of artwork will be displayed in the facility, Lane added.
Other special features at the courthouse include a built-in public address system plus special seating and earphones for the hearing-impaired.
The project has increased parking on both sides of the facility as well as out back. Final landscaping is not to be completed until later this spring, once the planting conditions improve.
Both the district court and the family division's clerks' offices (now located in a portion of the lobby of the Belknap County Superior Court) will continue the process of moving through March 31. As a result, the clerks' offices will be closed. Parties with hearings scheduled during that time are being asked to report to the current locations, as those hearings will occur as scheduled. Any requests regarding emergency relief also will be accepted at the existing court clerks' offices during the moving period, according to court spokesman Laura Kiernan.
A grand opening ceremony will take place once the facility reopens but a final date has not yet been set.