The Hampton Court House will be out of the law business at the end of next month, but it's still unclear what will become of the historic building.
All court activity is being moved from the 140-year-old building to the new Saint John Law Courts building at Peel Plaza when it's ready to open.
Hampton lawyer David Lutz says no one has put forward a viable option yet for the town's landmark building, located across the street from his office on Main Street.
"It’s one thing that I wouldn’t say everybody in town is talking about, but many, many people in town — and officially and unofficially," he said.
An ad-hoc committee was tasked with finding a way to preserve and re-design the courthouse, but nothing came out of those discussions, said Lutz.
"We're trying to find a use for it but we just can't come up with it," he said.
"These are 18- to 20-foot ceilings, the building is constructed in such a way that you can't move the walls."
The estimated heating cost of between $25,000 and $30,000 a year is another issue, said Lutz, noting the building is also hot during the summers.
The lack of wheelchair access is also a problem, said Hampton provincial court Judge Henrik Tonning, who was appointed to the bench there 13 years ago after working as a lawyer for 20 years.
'When you come to a place that's been a seat of justice for over a century, a century and a half in this case, it just brings something to the proceeding that simply can't be duplicated.' —Provincial court Judge Henrik Tonning
"I'd be quite content to stay here and finish my time here," said Tonning.
"I mean let's face it, justice is based on history, our law is based on precedent, and when you come to a place that's been a seat of justice for over a century, a century and a half in this case, it just brings something to the proceeding that simply can't be duplicated. It's hard for me to explain it," he said.
"But the reality is this building is challenged in a number of ways. We don't have wheelchair access, you have to get here by the stairs and that is causing problems."
Local writer and historian Dorothy Dearborn contends moving court matters out of the Hampton Court House to the new Saint John Law Courts removes part of the town's character.
"You can still walk in that building and see those people there. And to not be able to see those people, it's horrible. It really is," she said.
During its "heyday," the courthouse was used for Court of Queen's Bench jury trials, provincial court cases and family court, said David Lutz.
But for the past decade, the building has been used primarily for provincial court on Mondays and Tuesdays and occasionally youth court on Wednesdays, he said.
Mayor hopes province can help
"It's been a part of the community for so many, many years, I'd say five or six generations have used it," said Lutz.
"It's not only been a courthouse, it’s been a meeting house, at one point it was used for the county commission and now nobody knows what’s going to happen," he said.
"It's a beautiful building in an intimate part of the town. We don't want it to be a fast food outlet, but I can't tell you that anyone can think of anything to use it for now."
Hampton Mayor Ken Chorley wants to meet with provincial government officials about the building's future. He hopes the province can find another use for what he calls the "focal point" of Hampton.
"Ideally, if there is another government department that could operate successfully out of that building, it would sustain itself that way," said Chorley.
"The government does own the building. The town isn't in a position really to take the building on as an expense, quite frankly."
Flooding delays opening of Saint John Law Courts
Hampton provincial court cases are slated to begin being held at the Saint John Law Courts on Feb. 1.
But recent water damage to the new building has thrown the start date into question.
One possibility is to move hearings into the former Saint John provincial courts at City Hall, said Judge Tonning.
"Whether we go in the first of February into the old premises there and work things in there, we're just not sure," he said. "We're working on the logistics of that."
The Saint John Law Courts building had been scheduled to open on Jan. 2, but some water pipes burst on Dec. 31.
The opening is now delayed for an undetermined amount of time as the contractor – Bird Construction – assesses and repairs the damage, officials have said.
The $42-million Peel Plaza project also includes the new headquarters for the Saint John Police Force.