BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — They are packing their bags at the Salem Probate & Family Court building on Federal Street, as employees prepare to move out before the start of a $60 million renovation.
The four Probate Court judges and 50 staff aren’t expected to move until next month, but there are so many records that need to be transferred that a vendor began working on the project last week.
“We have records from 1889 to today that will be going over,” said Pamela Casey O’Brien, the register of probate for Essex County.
The court will be moving to Shetland Park, an office complex next to Pickering Wharf, which will become its new home for about three years. The tentative moving date is the end of April.
The renovation of the Probate & Family Court building is one in a series of court transfers or projects slated to take place over the next few months.
Legislation filed by state Rep. John Keenan and state Sen. Joan Lovely to transfer the vacant superior court and district court buildings to the Salem Redevelopment Authority is currently sitting in a legislative committee. Keenan hopes to see it reported out this month.
However, Secretary of State William Galvin has raised concerns about the transfer, because he wants the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds, which moved several years ago to Shetland Park, to move back to a public building to save money. Galvin said the registry pays $645,000 a year in rent at Shetland Park.
Galvin wants to investigate moving the registry to the empty District Court building on Washington Street, even though a state-commissioned study raised questions about the cost of renovating that building.
When the registry moved out in 2007, however, state and local officials said every effort would be made to move back to District Court to retain a presence in the downtown.
The Salem News was not able to reach Galvin yesterday.
Keenan said he is trying to schedule a meeting of the parties involved, but no date has been set. Until that issue is resolved, it appears the bill cannot move forward.
Meanwhile renovations are underway at Shetland Park, which is converting and expanding the space once used by the juvenile court.
Renovations at Probate Court are expected to begin in late spring or early summer. The state hired a construction manager last week. Under current plans, a 1979 rear addition will be demolished, and four courtrooms will be renovated.
The Historical Commission is scheduled to discuss the court project tomorrow night.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.