The historic Harris House, located next to the Thurman Town Hall in Athol, may again house the town court and judge’s quarters, if the town accepts a $11,500 grant from the state for building upgrades. The Thurman Town board is scheduled to decide at its meeting March 11 whether or not to accept the money and make needed upgrades. The grant was announced last week. The Harris Hose was built in the 1890s by local resident David Combs. Photo provided by Persis Granger
The town’s justice court may be moving back into its former quarters in the historic Harris House just southeast of the town hall, if the town leaders vote to accept a grant that’s been awarded for that reason.
The town received a letter Tuesday Feb. 25 of a state grant of $11,500 awarded for renovating Harris House so the justice court can be relocated to its first floor. The money would be used to install a new furnace and repair damage caused by the May 2011 flooding of the building’s basement.
Justice Sheila Flanagan wrote the grant application for the upgrades, submitting it to the state court system officials, town Supervisor Evelyn Wood said.
Flanagan and Wood said the grant award was welcome, and provide for court operations that were more convenient, secure and private — if the town board votes to accept the grant.
“The Harris House is a nice, historic building hopefully this grant will get things moving in the right direction,” Wood said.
Until late 2011, the justice court and town judge’s quarters were situated in the Harris House, along with the town assessors. The building was closed down in fall of that year, in an effort to save utility and heating costs.
The town court was moved to the town hall, with the judge’s bench mounted on wheels, so it can be rolled into the general meeting room to conduct town court, which is held at 2 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
This past year, however, with the town hall being used for other purposes regularly and town operations becoming more complex, the court sessions have run into conflicts — plus the state is raising its standards for court security. An additional separate room is also needed for judge-attorney conferences and attorney-client consultations — all of which the Harris House could provide, Flanagan said. Now Flanagan shares an office that’s routinely busy with other functions, Wood said. Also, town court occasionally conflicts with town board and community meetings, she added.
Flanagan said the state grant would go far in accomplishing renovations, because local residents have volunteered to help with Harris House repairs and upgrades — including drywall and painting work.
Under the grant’s requirements, the town has 180 days to complete the work.
The Harris House, built in the 1890s by local resident David I. Combs, could also conceivably house the Thurman Town Historian’s office as well as the town assessors, and perhaps provide a secondary community space for town groups to use, Flanagan said. She added that a new furnace would likely be considerably more economical than the prior one that was ruined by flooding.
“Hopefully the Harris House renovation will open up possibilities and be good for the whole community,” she said.
Flanagan said Thurman Court Clerk Joanna Cummings suggested applying for the grant. For years, Cummings worked as a court clerk in the Town of Providence where her husband served as town judge. Flanagan praised Cummings’ knowledge of court functions and the availability of grant money for court renovations.
“Joanna is a huge resource for Thurman,” Flanagan said, deferring the credit for the grant to her court clerk.
Wood said she was pleased that the grant was awarded in full, and that the Harris House would again be an important and useful building for townspeople.
“We were very happy to receive the grant,” she said. “With the money, we should be able to get quite a bit of work completed.”