State sets schedule for closing Litchfield courthouse
The Litchfield courthouse, a landmark on West Street, is scheduled to close on or about Sept. 30. BZ photo
The courthouse that has stood facing the Green in Litchfield since 1889 would be vacated on or about Sept. 30 under a plan announced by the state Department of Administrative Services.
DAS revealed its plan in a May 16 letter to Litchfield attorney Michael Rybak, who represents the two people the granite landmark would revert to after a 214-year-old lease with the state expires.
The individuals, George S. Beckwith and Jennifer H. Blake, are descendants of Moses Seymour Sr. and Moses Seymour Jr., two of the Litchfield men who signed the lease in 1803. The lease gave the state free use of the property on which the courthouse is located.
The courthouse, along with the courthouse the state operates in the former Bantam School, will be moving to the new Litchfield County courthouse in Torrington this summer. The Bantam courthouse is expected to close on or about Sept. 20.
It’s uncertain if the state will hold to the Sept. 30 day as Rybak has expressed several concerns about the property being returned to his clients on such short notice. His clients, Rybak wrote in a May 25 email to DAS, were under the impression that the state would be maintaining some judicial operations in the building.
The financially-strapped state, however, has taken the $5 million it was going to use to update the courthouse and invested it in the completion of the Torrington courthouse. According to Rybak, Beckwith and Blake are in no position to assume ownership of an 18,000 square-foot building that would require money to operate and maintain.
Rybak, in a May 25 email to Mallory and Melissa Farley of DAS, expressed several concerns with the state’s timeline for terminating the lease. The state’s plan, Rybak wrote, came as a surprise to Beckwith and Blake, who he said are not in a financial position to assume ownership of the 18,000 square-foot building on such short notice.
“It seems to me that the state cannot simply abandon the courthouse property leaving any and all conditions which it may have created for my clients to assume,” Rybak wrote in the email. “While DAS may view this as simply closing out a lease, it is effectively a transfer of a state public building and site, exclusively controlled and operated by the state and the county for over 200 years.”
The property could have environmental liabilities such as lead paint, asbestos and leaking underground oil tanks that his clients should not be expected to assume, according to Rybak.
“My clients cannot expose their homes and savings to any risk which may arise from personal ownership of such a property,” Rybak wrote. Taxes, sewer, water and utility charges will accrue. Commercial property insurance will need to be arranged. A property manager and real estate broker will have to be retained. Someone who knows how to operate the systems in the building will have to work with the current maintenance staff to assume the operation of the systems.”