By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The city of Bristol is looking to relocate its Probate Court in an effort to provide more space for legal matters handled in the three communities it currently serves.
Currently located on the third floor of Bristol City Hall, Probate Court for Region #19 includes Bristol, Plainville and Plymouth. The city is currently looking to relocate the court to the Beals-Senior Community Center at 240 Stafford Avenue in Bristol.
During a Town Council meeting held last Monday, Town Manager Robert Lee said he recently attended a meeting concerning the relocation. He said the meeting was a follow-up to a letter sent from Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne that notified both Plymouth and Plainville the city was seeking to relocate the offices of the probate court. The city has looked at several options, including renting of space and relocating to other municipal facilities in Bristol. After viewing these options, the city has decided to pursue relocating the offices to the north wing of the Beals-Community Senior Center on the first floor.
“The reason for the relocation is because of unexpectedly high volumes of patrons occupying space outside the court,” said Lee during the meeting. “The hallway congestion is causing problems with normal business operations and causes problems for the court, and confidential matters cannot be contained to private meeting spaces and plans were negatively impacted by the lack of privacy.”
“We’re really excited to have more space, but also for clients to have more privacy,” said Chief Clerk Anne Holihan. “We deal with sensitive family matters.”
Holihan, who has been working in the court since 1987, said she and other court employees look forward to the move, which has been anticipated for awhile now. She noted how the current location does not provide adequate space, since attorneys have conferred with clients on the stairwell in City Hall. She added the new location (the first floor of the senior center) is not only be more convenient in the event of an emergency, but is also more accommodating to senior clients and clients with physical disabilities.
Holihan said different city departments have supported the move, including the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Education. The court will use 4.5 classrooms in the senior center that were previously used by the school board before relinquishing them back to the city, said Holihan.
“I’m looking forward to the move,” said Holihan, adding the move is expected by January. “We’re going to have dedicated conference rooms for attorneys to confer with clients.”
During the meeting, Lee said town officials took a tour of the court offices, where it became clear the spaces currently occupied are overcrowded, and “inadequate” based on recommendations from the state probate court. The court currently has 10 employees and occupies approximately 2,000 square feet of space.
Lee added the cost could be split based on a percentage of the total Grand List of the three communities which the court serves. However, Bristol is still determining the renovation costs. The city plans to proceed with the relocation this current fiscal year, and will seek approval from the chief state probate official.
“At some point during the current fiscal year, the Town Council may have to make additional appropriations for Plainville’s share of the cost of the relocation,” said Lee, adding he will keep the council updated.
Bristol’s Mayor Ken Cockayne said he hopes the relocation will happen by next spring. He said the city is currently working with an architect to establish a design plan, which the Building Department will review.
“The senior center will allow the space [court employees] really need,” said Cockayne, adding the probate court has been located in City Hall since the time it only served Bristol. “Our City Hall hasn’t been moved around to make it more user-friendly.”