County advisory board approves courthouse repairs

Money will pay for heating system fix as debate continues over who is responsible for building.

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The Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown will get some county money to make sure there's no repeat of a day without heat. — Michael Cummo

At a brief meeting Monday, the Dukes County Advisory Board voted 3-0 to approve repairs to the Dukes County Courthouse. The vote authorized $19,200 to repipe a boiler, and for actuator and valve work. It also authorized up to $13,000 for replacing a water main to the courthouse. 

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton told The Times the water main is “falling apart,” and also said, “The heating system doesn’t work properly.”

Board member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter departed the meeting prior to the vote. Reached later, Manter said leaving wasn’t a political maneuver, but a necessity because he was pressed for time and needed to head for work at the West Tisbury Police Department, where he is a lieutenant.

Deliberation over the courthouse occurred at the last advisory board meeting on Sept. 19, when Manter voiced displeasure at “foolish Band-Aid repairs” on the building. Manter described the handicap accessibility there as “embarrassing,” and told his fellow advisory board members that the state needs to find a new facility. 

“A couple of years ago we had a couple of people from the state come down here, judges come down here,” he said. “They promised lots of things. They’ve done nothing.” 

Manter advocated for the county to put its foot down: “So I think we should stop wasting our money here and tell the courthouse, tell the state, that they need to get on the ball and find a facility that will suit their needs and the needs of the citizens of the county. Rather than keep pouring money into a building that’s just laughable.”

At that meeting, Thornton said she agreed with Manter insofar as the state hasn’t backed up their words with action. 

“To me the only expenditure I’m in favor at the courthouse is buying a For Sale sign to put on the front door,” Manter said. 

When told by Dukes County registrar Paulo DeOliviera that a water main break would create “a swimming pool in the basement within five minutes,” Manter said, “Then they should plan the new building faster.”

County commissioner Tristan Israel advocated being “more aggressive” with the state, while advisory board member Bill Rossi said he believes it is the county’s duty to maintain the building. 

“For me the conundrum is the registry,” advisory board member Arthur Smadbeck said. “If the registry wasn’t in here, and we didn’t have that to deal with, the For Sale sign would be the easiest way to do it. You put the For Sale sign out there, and the state has a choice. They can buy the building, or they can become tenants of whoever does buy the building, or find another place.” 

But Smadbeck said the county doesn’t have a solution for what to do with the registry of deeds, the sole county office in the building, in such a scenario. 

“I heard a rumor, I don’t know if it’s true or not,” Manter joked, “if you allow a building to fall into disrepair bad enough, Edgartown will buy it by eminent domain.” 

Manter went on to decline to vote for any repair money for the courthouse at that meeting. 

In a statement to The Times, Edgartown District Court Magistrate Liza Williamson, who attended the meeting Monday, expressed thanks to the County Advisory Board.

“I am grateful to the County Advisory Board for recognizing the important role the district court has with regard to public safety in our community. Hopefully, this funding to make early repairs to the heating system will obviate the potential emergency closure of the courthouse, as occurred last year.”

In November 2018, the courthouse was forced to close because the heating system failed and the building was too cold to work in.