2016-12-05 / Opinion

Biddeford gets coup with new county courthouse


Back in March, Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Leigh Saufley took York County legislators, including myself, on a tour of the Capitol Judicial Center in Augusta. It is a remarkable four-story facility, which combines criminal, family and business courts in one safe, welcoming and efficient location.

The goal of that visit was to start a discussion about developing a similar new structure in York County. That’s because conditions of some of the courthouses in York County are creating considerable inefficiencies and delays, not to mention safety issues. To give you an idea of the need, in 2014 alone, 1,721 civil cases were filed in Biddeford, 1,459 in Springvale and 651 in York. That’s 15 cases for each day the courts are open. With only one suitable courtroom in the entire county for hearing any case in which a jury trial has been requested, delays are inevitable. That affects our businesses and residents, who often have to wait longer than they should for cases to be resolved. As it has in Kennebec County, consolidating four courthouses into one regional county-wide courthouse has the potential to create greater efficiencies in time and cost for all involved.

Looking back on that tour just nine short months ago, it is remarkable how quickly the location selection process took place. A broadly representative stakeholder group met for three months earlier this year and after considering 28 possible sites county-wide, determined the best location was at 511-515 Elm St. in Biddeford. This location will provide easy access from the turnpike and Route 111, as well as bus accessibility from Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach. The new facility will combine civil court (where business-related cases like contract disputes are tried), juvenile, family and criminal courts, consolidating facilities that are currently located in Alfred, Biddeford, York and Springvale. It will make it more convenient for most county and local residents to access the court system. 

There will be dozens of jobs during construction, and many more permanent jobs when it is completed: everything from custodial staff to judges and law clerks. The new judicial center will likely also draw law offices and other court-related businesses to the city. It will become a destination for people from across York and Cumberland counties as well as outside the state of Maine that need to come to the courthouse, spurring continued business growth in the area.

The team is in the process of selecting an architect and will begin working on the new building sometime next year. The goal is to have it in operation by the end of 2020. It is truly an outstanding outcome for Biddeford to be selected as the new location for a consolidated York County courthouse.

— State Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, represents House District 12, which includes part of Biddeford.

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