Will Hampden County courthouse finally get fixed?

Mold-filled building has posed health hazard for years

THE LETTER FROM the Hampden County court clerk ran for three pages and listed the problems with the Springfield courthouse. There was mold in the air vents, which was suspected of making employees sick. There was a lack of air circulation. The temperature was inconsistent, and the roof leaks. “Employees note that they feel better when they are not in this building,” the letter said.

The letter was not penned last week, when District Attorney Anthony Gulluni ordered the evacuation of his staff from the Roderick Ireland Courthouse due to mold and concerns about health hazards. It was written by clerk Laura Gentile in 2013.

After more than eight years of steady complaints by court staff, advocates, and local officials, could the recent evacuation be the push the state needs to finally replace or refurbish the long-ailing courthouse? Advocates certainly hope so.

When Gulluni evacuated his staff from the building on August 25, he cited the discovery of mold throughout courtrooms and offices, the Springfield Republican reported. Photos supplied to the Republican by courthouse workers showed mold on walls, floors, ceilings, ventilation ducts, chair arms, books, and a courtroom microphone.

Hampden County Register of Deeds Cheryl Coakley-Rivera followed Gulluni’s lead in evacuating her staff – and then filed a lawsuit this week seeking a judge’s order to immediately close the courthouse until it can be determined that the building is safe.

A Trial Court spokesperson said the court has hired a mold abatement company to clean the building. But a number of Western Massachusetts lawmakers are seeking a more permanent solution: raze the courthouse and build a new one.

State Rep. Bud Williams, a Springfield Democrat and former probation officer, told the Springfield Republican that he can name three or four colleagues who died young of different ailments, including lung disease, after working in the courthouse. That is in addition to the deaths of two successive presiding justices of the Springfield District Court – Robert Kumor and William Boyle – who died of ALS after using the same office.

Yet Western Massachusetts lawmakers have been saying the courthouse is unsafe for nearly a decade, with little to show for it.

Trial Court administrator Harry Spence acknowledged in 2013 that the Springfield courthouse was one of the “more severely ailing courthouses” in the state, and said the question was getting money to rebuild it. In 2016, the Legislature approved a budget earmark to study the courthouse, but the study never happened. A draft of the Trial Court’s 2017 Capital Master Plan did not list repairing the courthouse as a top priority. In 2019, the Republican reported that legislators met with state Trial Court officials to discuss plans to determine if the courthouse was making its employees sick, after Boyle raised concerns about whether his ALS diagnosis related to his work in the courthouse.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Now, Gulluni, Coakley-Rivera, and others are hoping the latest events will be the push the Legislature, governor, and Trial Court need to finally fund and move forward with repairing or rebuilding the dilapidated court. At a press conference Thursday, plaintiffs and their supporters slammed state authorities for years of inaction, with retired state Supreme Judicial Court Justice John Greaney of Springfield calling the building a “Hall of Toxicity,” rather than the Hall of Justice.

On Friday, Williams, who is the House chair of the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion, and other members of the Springfield delegation are planning their own press conference to discuss a letter they submitted to Baker on Thursday requesting an emergency order to rehabilitate or rebuild the courthouse. The letter said that “the only real solution is to tear it down, rebuild or find a new home for the courthouse.”