Lake George Historical Association President Alex Parrott talks Aug. 9 about how dual use of the Old County Courthouse — now utilized as a museum — would put artifacts at risk and compromise the mission of the museum. The Lake George Town Board has recently proposed to use the building as an active courthouse for overflow state Supreme Court proceedings.
Four days earlier, citizen activist Joanne Gavin implored the town board— with tears in her eyes — to abandon their plan to hold state Supreme Court proceedings in the Old County Courthouse, now used as a local history museum. The proposal had prompted impassioned pleas from the Lake George Historical Association members worried about the fate of their artifacts and how sharing the building would curtail their museum operations.
But at a town meeting Monday Aug. 13, however, Gavin proposed a solution to the board with a cheery voice and dry eyes.
Why not use the Lake George Senior Center, a municipal building with plenty of space and an open schedule, for the Supreme Court’s overflow cases, she asked.
The Senior Center already features a handicapped rest room and an entrance ramp, which would have to be constructed to use the historic courthouse — and such changes to the antique building would compromise its character, she noted.
The town could lease out the space at its Senior Center, and use the revenue to make repairs to the Old Courthouse — a primary reason the town board members have cited for the dual use of the historic brick courthouse on Amherst and Canada streets.
To sweeten the deal, Gavin said that if the town established a site for court other than the historic courthouse, she’d donate to the some furniture that would be appropriate and significant to the court — a judge’s desk and chair that belonged to long-time local Justice Ralph Brynes, her father-in-law.
Pam Parrott, a member of the Historical Association, reacted to Gavin’s offer with a look of shock.
“This is an amazing idea,” she said. Board members said they’d give it consideration.
At the special meeting held Thursday Sept. 9, a half-dozen or so Historical Association members voiced strong objections of the old courthouse’s dual use.
Former Association Trustee Joan West picketed the meeting, and later sobbed as she told of how she quit her post last August over the controversy of dual use.
Association President Alex Parrott had told of how impromptu court sessions would interfere with museum hours and programs. Artifacts could be easily damaged as they were moved repeatedly back and forth from the courtroom — the museum’s display room.
The security of the artifacts would be compromised with the public traffic in the court, he said. He and others said the judge’s bench and witness stand were artifacts themselves, and inappropriate for use now. Supervisor Dickinson pledged full support of the museum, adding that he was in no way suggesting the museum move out. He and the board were merely exploring options in generating revenue for the town to make needed repairs to preserve the building, he said.
Les Edwards, who worked as a court officer for two years, said the building would not serve well as a contemporary courtroom.
“The Town Board should be supporting the museum rather than disrupting it,” he said. “Keep the court proceedings out of the museum.”
Various Association members criticized the board for pursuing such ideas for alternate uses — like holding weddings in the courthouse — without discussing them first with them.
“We feel side-stepped,” Association vice president Scott Bauberger said.
A half-dozen people said the communication between the board and the Association was lacking. Dickinson apologized, but emphasized the board was merely exploring ideas, and were intending to gather information before they consulted with the Association officials.
“From now on, we’ll keep you in the loop,” Dickinson said.
Two board members, Dan Hurley and Fran Heinrich, said they strongly opposed the dual use of the courthouse. Marisa Muratori said dual uses of structures was a new, reasonable trend — in theory.
“Every idea needs to be heard, whether it has merit or not,” she said.
Museum officials assured town board members, in light of their fiscal concerns, that they’d now take action to seek grants to repair the courthouse.