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Agawam councilors see ‘genuine fear,’ back push for new courthouse

Date: 4/13/2022

AGAWAM – Hampden County needs a new courthouse, Agawam city councilors agreed in a 10-0 vote last week.

Councilors on April 4 endorsed a resolution calling on state officials to relocate court business to a temporary location and study both renovation and replacement of the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield. In their comments on the resolution, however, they made it clear they favor a new building rather than an attempt to fix the persistent mold and air quality problems at the current courthouse.

“In the end, the outcome would be new construction,” predicted City Councilor Rosemary Sandlin. “I think they cannot remedy the situation.”

Critics of the current courthouse note that three judges who worked there have died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and dozens more workers have been diagnosed with cancer. Safety inspectors have found widespread infestations of cancer-causing mold, and the Registry of Deeds office recently circulated photographs of sewage leaks in an office area and a bathroom.

Council President Christopher Johnson, a lawyer whose practice takes him to the courthouse frequently, said those who work there are worried.

“There is genuine fear with the employees I talk to who work in the courthouse,” Johnson said. “I see it in their eyes, I hear it in their voices. There’s genuine fear there. … That alone, in my humble opinion, is reason enough to move forward as quickly as possible.”

Councilor Anthony Suffriti said he was relieved recently when his call to jury duty was canceled, because he had been anxious about breathing the courthouse air.
“If I’m nervous for one day, I can’t imagine what [court workers] feel every day,” he said.

Councilor Cecilia Calabrese, who drafted the resolution, said she hoped other cities and towns in Hampden County would pass similar resolutions. The vote was taken on the same day that the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance announced it would commission a repair-or-replacement study.

Johnson said he’d like to see the state replace the Roderick Ireland Courthouse with a larger facility, so that the housing and juvenile courts, currently housed in the old courthouse next door, could be brought under the same roof.