Proposed courthouse raises questions

Posted 12/27/23


The Rhode Island Judiciary is requesting funding to build a new courthouse in Cranston, but don’t hold your breath.

The Judiciary requested funding from the state …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Proposed courthouse raises questions



The Rhode Island Judiciary is requesting funding to build a new courthouse in Cranston, but don’t hold your breath.

The Judiciary requested funding from the state last month despite not including it in its budget request to the governor in October, as was reported in a recent Boston Globe article. The request, originally for $400 million but since downsized to a $350 million, would allow the Judiciary to leave behind the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence and construct a new building in Cranston’s Pastore Center.

“The Judiciary considered various available parcels centrally located and owned by the State as potential locations for the new courthouse, including at the Pastore Complex in Cranston,” State Court Administrator Julie P. Hamil said in a recent statement. “The appeal of this location is that it is State-owned, is on a public transportation route, and can accommodate free parking for all court users.  Given the state’s small size, moving the courthouse from Providence to Cranston would be preferable if the Judiciary were able to offer improved user and staff experience.”

A new, larger location would allow for improved functioning of several services, including sensitive ones such as family visitation, support for individuals facing eviction, and veterans’ and mental health treatment, all of which the current building lacks the proper facilities for. Often, due to the building’s lack of dedicated spaces, services such as this take place in hallways or even closets.

“To accommodate the staff needed to administer justice in Rhode Island, closets and other storage areas have had to be converted into workspaces,” Hamil writes. “The office space constraints in Garrahy are a factor not only for the Judiciary’s staff, but also for our justice partners who maintain offices in Garrahy: the Public Defender’s Office, the Department of Attorney General, Adult Probation, Providence Police, and Victim’s Services.”

However, it may be a long wait before a project of this scale can get on the ground. According to House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi on Friday December 22, “It’s a long way from moving. It’s a long long way from moving. Mayor Smiley came out opposing that move yesterday. I can tell you that it is not in the Judiciary budget. I don’t know if the governor is going to include it in his budget.”

Furthermore, a lack of transparency and bad timing will likely stymy the effort even more. “I’ve been Speaker for three years and it’s never been on my radar,” Shekarchi says. “And then when I met with them recently, they said, ‘We’ve been talking about this for four years and Covid slowed us down.’”

“We had all the infrastructure money,” Shekarchi continued. “We had all the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money. We had all the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act money. Nobody was talking about it. Now all that money is gone, they’re starting to talk about it.”

Some opponents of the courthouse move point to the newly constructed parking garage built next to the current courthouse — and how building visitors were expected to occupy most of the new garage. Shekarchi said that argument makes “a very good point.”

In Cranston, there’s not much to be said about the project.

The Mayor’s office hasn’t formally heard anything about a courthouse at the Pastore Center. City Planning Director Jason Pezzullo told the Herald on Friday “We don’t have anything to do with Pastore from a development standpoint. They don’t consult with locals when it’s a state development.”

According to Representative Jaqueline Baginski, who represents the 17th district in Cranston and has heard a little of the rumbling about the courthouse up at the state house, “The governor’s office doesn’t need to ask the General Assembly for their consent to do things like that. Unless there were some great reason it might present a danger or a traffic.”

Traffic is exactly what Representative Barbara Ann Fenton Fung, who represents the 15th district in Cranston, worries about when asked about a state courthouse in the Pastore Center. “That’s a very densely traveled area,” she said. “When a formal proposal comes out, I’d need to see a traffic proposal in the area.”

Whether that formal proposal comes out at all is a matter for the governor and the state house to decide, but whatever they agree on, it will likely be a while before Cranstonians need to worry about having the Rhode Island Judiciary for neighbors.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here