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Source: Seacoast Online

While voters will decide whether to demolish the old Hampton District Court building in March, Town Manager Fred Welch said after a recent inspection the historic 139-year-old building is officially off limits.

The town manager informed selectmen last week that asbestos and lead paint was found in the building which will have to be removed.

“The level of asbestos is high, very high,” Welch said. “It will have to be abated before it can be used for any purpose. It’s that bad.”

While the Police Department has used the building in the past for training exercises, Welch has canceled all future training until the problem is corrected. “Anyone who enters the building must where breathing protection as a precaution at this time,” Welch said.

Welch has already requested the building department obtain costs and a work plan to abate the lead paint and asbestos. He noted the work would still have to be done regardless if the building is torn down or not.

The building has been vacant since 2005, when the state relocated the court due the building’s poor condition. At the time, employees complained it was infested with mold, and it had to be fumigated more than once for fleas.

While the town’s Heritage Commission pushed to refurbish the building, it never gained any real momentum as the projected cost to bring back the building to its former glory was over a million dollars.

Several months ago, selectmen decided to put the issue on what should be done with the courthouse to rest, deciding to put forth a warrant article asking voters if they want to demolish it. The decision came after the building was broken into and vandalized.

Welch said they have sent crews to make sure the building is secure but said they have had some issues. “The frame is so bad, it won’t hold the window in place,” Welch said.

With the latest news regarding the building’s condition, Selectman Richard Nichols pushed for the town manager to get an accurate cost on what it would cost to demolish the building.

While the town tore down the old Town Hall for $22,000, the place holder in the warrant article to tear down the courthouse is $75,000.

Welch said he intends to get a firmer number before the warrant article is presented to voters.

Welch told the selectmen the old Town Hall also has an asbestos problem which needs to be taken care of before the building is demolished.

“That cost around $1,200 to $1,500,” Welch said. “This building is going to be astronomically higher than that from what I’m being told.”

The building’s historical significance has been cited in the past as a reason to save it.

According to archives from Lane Memorial Library, the building was originally built for $4,485 at the current site of Centre School. In 1922, the building was moved to its current location. Through the years, it has served as home to Hampton’s public kindergarten, the American Legion Post No. 35 hall, Fire Station 2 and, finally, Hampton District Court.