Government won’t confirm it, but the site of the former Grace General Hospital has been pegged as the preferred location for the new courthouse in St. John’s, The Telegram has learned.
Sources within the provincial justice system say the government-owned site is considered the most logistically convenient and is at the top of the list of potential locations.
When contacted earlier this week, Justice Minister Felix Collins was not available for an interview. However, in a prepared statement, sent via email, he said the province is not ready to make an announcement on the project.
“A new courthouse in St. John’s has been identified as a potential infrastructure development in the future,” the email stated.
“However, this development is still preliminary, including the location of any potential sites.
“It would be premature for me to comment or commit to a potential site as no decision has been made.”
In an interview with The Telegram earlier this year, Collins said preliminary work has been done on the long-talked-about project.
He said a new courthouse was near the top of the province’s wish list in terms of large infrastructure projects in the next few years.
Collins was responding to comments made in January by Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Justice Derek Green, who told a Rotary club gathering of the need for a new court facility.
Green said “courts fly under the radar” for those outside the system.
Green pointed to courthouse infrastructure in St. John’s and throughout the province as examples of where a lack of communication has resulted in projects being sidelined.
Foremost among them were Newfoundland Supreme Court on Duckworth Street and provincial court at Atlantic Place on Water Street.
Supreme Court is in a building more than 100 years old with a staff complement nearly three times bigger than it was designed to hold.
Provincial court is in a space originally meant for retail, and the Supreme Court of Appeal is also cramped and lacking facilities.
According to documents obtained by an access to information request by The Telegram, the location of the new courthouse has been a hot topic among justice officials in the last six months.
Email and other correspondence all refer to the potential new site.
Specific locations have been blacked out according to government policy not to divulge information that would reveal “the substances of deliberations of Cabinet.”
But it appears the location has been narrowed down and officials want the issue settled soon.
Even the chief justice of Newfoundland Supreme Court’s Trial Division has weighed in on what he and other judges believe to be the best locations.
In a letter written May 27 to Donald Burrage, deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general, Chief Justice David Orsborn said, “On being advised of your recent initiative concerning Supreme Court facilities in St. John’s, I consulted with the judges who sit in the Trial Division in St. John’s.
“As chief judge of the Trial Division, I can advise you that the Trial Division is amenable to the construction of a new Trial Division facility — for use of both the general division and the family division, on the (blacked out) site. At the same time, we continue to support any feasible development on the (blacked out) site.”
Most of the letter was redacted, but it indicates the government might choose to also have provincial court at the potential location.
The final paragraph states, “All this being said, the court views this recent initiative most positively. Through thoughtful and co-operative planning and design — and appropriate funding — there is a real opportunity to significantly improve, for generations to come, the total environment in which family, civil and criminal disputes are addressed in the capital city. We can set an example for the rest of the country.”
Preliminary work done last year included a study commissioned by the province and obtained by The Telegram through access to information in June 2010. It highlighted eight possible locations for a court complex. The plan was prepared by BAE-Newplan Group Ltd. Prices attached to each of the options were blacked out.
Collins said earlier this year those eight options are still being considered. One of them was the Grace General Hospital site on LeMarchant Road.
The hospital closed in 2000 and was demolished in 2008.
Last year, Corner Brook opened a $21-million court complex.
Additions and upgrades have also been made to courthouses in St. John’s and there have been recent investments in video conferencing technology and beefed-up security for provincial court.