January 22, 2013

Augusta Planning Board approves exterior of new $55 million courthouse

Colors will blend with existing historic county courthouse

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Justice will be served within similar, if not quite the same shade, gray walls at the expanded Kennebec County Courthouse.

click image to enlarge

Alan Kuniholm, left, and Peter Anderson, of PDT Architects, talk about the color of the exterior building materials during a site visit by the Augusta Planning Board Tuesday, between the old and new Kennebec County Superior Court houses.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The Augusta Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the exterior colors and materials of the approximately $55 million new four-story, 120,000-square-foot courthouse, to be attached to the existing, historic county courthouse.

Planners actually approved the project in July but imposed conditions requiring the applicant to come back to the board within six months, with samples of materials and colors to be used on the exterior of the building.

Several board members asked, in July, that the building's colors blend in better with the existing courthouse, which was built in 1830.

Early Tuesday morning, a site visit to the courthouse was held, so planners -- only some of whom attended the visit -- could see the proposed colors and materials for the new courthouse, while standing next to the current, historic courthouse.

Nine people attended, including Planning Board members A. Delaine Nye, Alison Nichols and Peter Pare, city planning staffers, representatives of the courts and Maine Governmental Facilities Authority, and Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph M. Jabar.

Planners, in a meeting later Tuesday, approved the colors and materials, though some still had concerns the building won't match the existing building to which it will be attached.

"I feel a lot more comfortable after going today," Nye said. "Overall, the style is a contrast to the existing courthouse. It's a wonderful piece of architecture. I wish it blended better with the (existing) courthouse. But I accept the fact the money wasn't there, and there were just too many reasons" it couldn't be made to match the current building better.

Alan Kuniholm, a principal architect with PDT Architects, said the composite stone material, precast concrete and brick of the new structure are meant to complement the old.

"We wanted to put any concerns to rest and to get final approval," Philip A. Johnston, owner's project manager for the Augusta Court Facility, said of the unusual site visit. "The only way to really do that was in natural light, right there where all the existing materials were. We had large samples we can't transport to the meeting."

The building will be sited between Winthrop and Court streets and connect to the existing Kennebec County Courthouse.

Pare said he felt the architects and designers' choice of materials was "wonderful." He said seeing the materials in natural light was helpful.

"It's a wonderful project and I think it's going to be a great addition to the city of Augusta," he said.

The new building's third floor will be connected to the second floor of the existing county courthouse.

It will consolidate both the Augusta district and Kennebec County superior courts, as well as other state court functions situated elsewhere in Augusta. It is expected to be completed in 2015.

The former Crisis & Counseling Centers building and the Augusta Spiritualist Church, both on Winthrop Street, behind the courthouse, were demolished to make way for the new building.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

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