Windsor County will vote on $2 million courthouse renovations
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | February 24,2013
An artist’s rendering shows how the Windsor County courthouse would look after renovations.
WOODSTOCK — A $2 million renovation project at the county’s civil courthouse would cost Windsor County taxpayers only $5 per year, according to the court’s side judges.
Taxes on a home assessed at $200,000 would increase by $50 over 10 years, Windsor County Side Judges David Singer and Jack Anderson are telling residents in all 24 county towns about the upcoming bond vote on Town Meeting Day.
According to the judges, the historic courthouse needs improvements to continue to operate. They said the courthouse is not accessible to the handicapped and lacks suitable ventilation, security and fire safety.
The side judges are bringing up the $2 million bond now because they cannot wait until the next general election to hold a vote, Anderson said. They are authorized to bring it forward on Town Meeting Day and hope voters are willing to pay for the renovations.
“I think what we’re trying to tell everyone is this building needs the upgrades and we have a responsible and affordable way to go about it,” Anderson said.
According to preliminary project plans drafted by Smith & Vansant Architects of Norwich, the renovations include a two-story 1,250-square-foot addition, a life-safety egress staircase, accessible entrance, and an elevator.
Other additions include a new holding cell, metal detectors and an integrated security system. According to the plans, the renovations will be consistent with the historic structure, which has been in operation since 1855 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The new additions would also allow civil, probate, family and criminal cases to be heard in Woodstock to ease the workload for other county facilities. According to Singer, the new courthouse will make proceedings more efficient and save time.
“I often use the analogy that if you’ve been languishing in jail for four months because you can’t get a hearing, it’s because sometimes there’s a lack of space to hold trials,” Singer said. “This will give the courthouse more versatility in handling all matters.”
Singer and Anderson said they are often asked if cheaper options are available. They both said the $2 million bond is the best route.
According to Singer, they could take off the roof at criminal court in White River Junction and build extra levels there while possibly closing civil court in Woodstock, but that option is not practical.
Another option is to build a new county courthouse altogether, but that option is not feasible.
Windsor County voters handily defeated a $4.6 million bond in 1998 that would renovate the same courthouse in Woodstock. Singer said it failed because they were asking for too many features and the $2 million bond will only cover the “bare-bones” necessary changes.
“We’re asking for modest changes. They were asking for ‘Downton Abbey,’” Singer said with a laugh.
Windsor County voters will decide the $2 million bond by Australian ballot Tuesday, March 5. Polling hours vary by town and can be found at the respective town offices in Windsor County.
For more information on the bond vote, email Singer at email@example.com or Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.