We live in a city full of old and venerable buildings. Many have stood the test of time and now stand as testament to history.
There are structures in Salem that have endured from the seventeenth century and from each succeeding century since. The House of the Seven Gables goes back to 1668. The Derby House was built in 1762. Old Town Hall dates back to 1816-17.
Each of those buildings have two things in common. The first is they were built to last. Care was taken in their design and construction so as to ensure they would withstand the ravages of time. Secondly, later in their history, someone stepped forward with the intent of furthering their existence for future generations.
On the middle stretch of Federal Street we have four buildings that house or have housed different aspects of our judicial and legal system over the last 170 years. The first, the County Commissioners Building was built in 1841. 1862 brought the construction of the Superior Court and the Registry of Deeds was built in 1909. The new J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center opened in 2011.
Anyone want to take a guess which of those four buildings stands the best chance of being only a memory 100 years from now?
When exactly did it become standard for public works projects to be conducted on a sub-standard level?
The 1970s saw a lot of new buildings go up here in Salem. The new Central Fire Headquarters, the High School, Bates School and Witchcraft Heights School all come to mind. Each of these structures were victims of shoddy construction practices that resulted in problems early in their existence. The three schools in particular required repairs and renovations that cost millions of dollars.
It would seem that we learned nothing from that experience.
The new judicial center showed signs of its future when a worker was nearly killed in 2010 by a fallen exterior wall panel. As a result ot that accident, 154 of the 576 exterior wall panels were removed and re-installed.
Fast forward to 2012 and we have had sewerage backups that occurred days after the building opened, ice falling from the roof onto the sidewalk, a ramp torn up because it was pitched incorrectly and a bad weld on a cornice that hangs about 80 feet high over the main entrance.
It should also be noted the brand new sidewalk in the back of the judicial center along Bridge Street is also being torn up this week.
Another sign of neglect would be the landscaping on the corner where the law library sits. The weeds are prevailing, some of them having grown to four feet in height and taller. The sod has given way to rocks and dirt. It looks terrible. Why pay for a landscape plan inclusive of plants, bushes and grass if the money will not be there to maintain what you create? A little hot top and some painted rocks would have served better.
$109 million dollars spent and for what? So we can spend more fixing what wasn't done right in the first place?
Somehow I feel that this new courthouse will not endure long enough to warrant discussion at meetings of the Salem Historical Commission.