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Second City Hall courtroom cost could be slashed by nearly $500,000

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WATERTOWN — On the eve of the region’s top administrative judge visiting here, a possible compromise has been worked out that would cut the cost of adding a second courtroom at City Hall from $1.5 million to less than $1 million.

City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk told the Watertown City Council on Monday night that the cost could be reduced to $958,000 by adding a smaller courtroom that would be used only for civil cases, so it would not need a jury box.

The 679-square-foot courtroom would be created by moving some office space on the first floor to City Hall. The other amenities required by the Fifth Judicial District would be included in the latest renderings.

“They’re happy with what we have,” Mr. Hauk said.

The city’s Engineering Office talked to Fifth Judicial District officials on Monday. The news comes as Judge James C. Tormey, the Fifth Judicial District’s administrative judge who oversees City Court, will be in Watertown tonight to talk to council members and other city officials about the issue.

While expenses for the second courtroom would decrease to about $400,000 under the latest plan, the city will still have to spend about $458,000 to improve security into City Hall, Mr. Hauk said.

The second courtroom is needed to accommodate the promotion of Catherine J. Palermo to full-time judge. Judge Tormey has criticized the city for objecting to the second courtroom.

Under state law, the city must provide a second courtroom for Judge Palermo to be a full-time judge, according to court administration officials. That would allow the two judges to hear cases simultaneously.

While the state pays the salaries of judges and court staff, the city would have to pay for the renovations.

Since the issue came up this winter, the city and the court administration have traded schematics on how a second courtroom could be added.

In other action, the City Council:

n Agreed to pay Bach Environmental Inc. $293,694 for the clean-up of the 5-acre Ogilvie Food plant site between California Avenue and North Pleasant Street. The Clayton firm will remove soil that contains petroleum and some of the remnants of the plant’s foundation.

Once the site is cleaned, four single-family houses will be constructed, two facing California Avenue and two facing North Pleasant Street. A city park or green space would be created on the inner part of the site.

n Set a $15 an hourly fee for a Sunday softball league to play its games at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Parks and Recreation Department officials and the softball league worked out that compromise after a $30 per-game fee was proposed.

The fee also will be applied to soccer, lacrosse, football and baseball organizations and other softball leagues that use the fields.

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