Court renovations now expected to finish in 2012

The Supreme Court buildings on Griffing Avenue have been closed for renovations since 2007. Cases were shifted to the new courthouse behind the old buildings.

The long-delayed renovations of the historic state Supreme Court buildings on Griffing Avenue are not expected to be done until at least the end of 2012, according to county officials.

And when it is done, the county will once again be looking for Riverhead Town to provide more parking for the courts.

The county began renovating the old Griffing Avenue court complex — the centerpiece of which is the more than 80-year-old Supreme Court building —  in 2007 after after the new courthouse behind the old buildings was completed.

“It was expected to be done quicker, but we ran into some real problems because when they started working on it, they found that it wasn’t built to same code requirements that are in place today,” said Suffolk County Commissioner of Jurors Michael O’Donohoe.

Work on the new courthouse, which was named after former Administrative Judge Alan Oshrin last Monday, started in 2004, and the expansion was expected to bring more jurors and court cases to Riverhead.

But the county has had to instead keep many of those cases in Central Islip while the old courts are being renovated.

The county shifted cases out of the 10 old court rooms on Griffing Avenue and into the new courthouse in 2007. But in mid-2008, the county discovered extensive water damage in the old buildings during the renovation process, and the job had to be redesigned, with an additional $7.2 million added to the $35.5 million originally budgeted for the new construction and renovation.

At that time, county officials said they expected the job to be done in January 2009 or January 2010. But it’s taken longer that that.

Jim Peterman, the chief deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, said he wasn’t aware of what the prior completion estimates were — or whether the job is behind schedule. The county expects to finish interior renovations on the third and fourth floor of the Griffing Avenue structure by the end of September, at which point bids would go out for work on the exterior of the string of three buildings, which house the state Supreme Court, the Commissioner of Jurors headquarters and administrative offices, Mr. Peterman said.

It takes about two months for the contract to be executed, so work should begin on the exterior renovations around December, Mr. Peterson said. It’s expected to take about a year.

“The courts do not want us to occupy the court rooms while the exterior renovation work is ongoing,” Mr. Peterman said. Because of this, the old court rooms aren’t expected to be used until the exterior work is competed in late 2012, he said.

While the bad part of the delay is that fewer cases will be heard in Riverhead, the silver lining is that it has put off the county’s calls for Riverhead Town to provide 600 more parking spaces for the courts.

The Town Board, during the administration of former Supervisor Vinny Villella, committed to providing 600 parking spaces for the courts in a 1999 resolution as an inducement to convince the county to build the new courts in Riverhead instead of Central Islip. Later, under former Supervisor Phil Cardinale’s administration, the Town Board passed another resolution agreeing to provide 606 spaces for the county courts after the county threatened to stop renovations on the Griffing Avenue court.

“We’re still shy some parking, but we told the town that until we get everything opened up, we’re not going to insist that the town give us the parking immediately,” Mr. O’Donohoe said this week. “We told them to give us what you can now, and that’s adequate for the amount of cases we have right now. As we expand and bring more cases to Riverhead, then we’re going to have to revisit this with the town, and see about having them meet the commitment they made about providing parking.”

The former Cornell Cooperative Extension property directly across the street from the courts was opened up for court parking this year, and Mr. O’Donohoe said new Long Island Rail Road schedules have resulted in more jurors taking the train to Riverhead instead of driving, which also helps reduce the need for parking spaces.

Under the LIRR’s old schedules, trains arrived in Riverhead after court sessions began.

The town acquired and demolished several buildings on Railroad Avenue in order to build the 253-space parking lot that serves the courts now. That total would count toward the 606-space commitment.

County officials estimated in 2008 that the town was about 200 parking spaces short.

Mr. O’Donohoe said this week that he doesn’t have a current estimate because the subject hasn’t come up since construction has slowed.

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