By Lee Tugas
The idea of a town and village municipal center in Whitehall is becoming a reality.
With the town at the south end and village police housed at the north end of the building, work has begun on a town court room.
Supervisor George Armstrong expects both town and village courts to take up residence in March. The only roadblock that has gotten in the way of construction by workers James Austin and Shan Beebe is the exact location of public restrooms. At a recent meeting of the village board, it was announced by Mayor Pete Telisky that construction plans would be changed so that public restrooms were not placed behind and to the side of the judges’ bench.
That adjustment made, Armstrong reports that progress is moving swiftly on completion of the court offices, which will house both town and village courts.
“I will be extremely disappointed if we are not in the new court facilities by March,” Armstrong said. “And we will be,” he added.
Village Trustee Ken Bartholomew, interviewed Monday on the construction site, said emphatically that both town and village judges would be housed in the municipal center by March.
For proof, he pointed to the two-by-four framing going up all around him. The work Monday was being done by town and village employee Jim Austin, who one moment was either climbing up a ladder to hammer or the next moment climbing down the ladder to get another tool.
On Monday Bartholomew pointed out where things would be:
Directly in front of the wall separating court from the police station will be two rooms for judges. In front of those rooms, running against a long wall, will be a five-foot ramp. The judge’s bench and witness chair will be placed in front of the ramp. On the floor in front of the raised bench will be two tables for prosecuting and defense lawyers and their clients. On the side facing the street will be left a space for placement of office dividers if a jury trial is ever required, Bartholomew explained. The two-by-four framing is up for all that Bartholomew described.
A roughly three-foot high partition will separate the court from a seating section for courtroom spectators.
And behind the spectator section will be two more rooms for judges, or for use by attorneys, he said.
Beyond that will be the new headquarters for remaining village officials and beyond the yet-to-be-built village office is the existing town office, which will give up some of its existing space for the village offices, Bartholomew said.
The town and village have been working toward moving the courts, which are located above village offices at North Williams and Saunders Streets, for the better part of the year.
And although Bartholomew and Armstrong are confident that town and village courts would both be working inside their new quarters by March, Village Mayor Peter Telisky is not as sanguine that remaining village offices will be re-located as quickly.
Telisky has earlier said, and recently repeated to Armstrong, that he will be satisfied if he and the village Board of Trustees, and the clerk and deputy clerk are in the municipal building at the expiration of his term, which ends in roughly 16 months.
On the other hand, the recent move of the police from their cramped quarters in the village highway building to the municipal center is considered by both town and village officials to be a significant milestone.
Placement in March of both town and village courts in the former Skenesborough Firehouse will mark an equally significant second milestone. Earlier this spring, the two municipalities received a $60,000 grant to be used to finance construction.