New Fredericton courthouse will cost $60M, Burton courthouse to be closed by 2025

·4 min read
The new Fredericton courthouse is expected to be completed by 2025. (Joe McDonald/CBC - image credit)
The new Fredericton courthouse is expected to be completed by 2025. (Joe McDonald/CBC - image credit)

Plans for the new Fredericton courthouse have been unveiled, again.

On Tuesday, the province revealed the new plans for a $60-million courthouse on King Street between Regent and Carleton streets.

The courthouse project has been in limbo since the former Liberal government announced a new building in the summer of 2018, with a projected cost of $76 million.

The plan was to refurbish the Centennial Building in downtown Fredericton and include a courthouse.

Construction got underway but was halted not long after, when Blaine Higgs became premier and axed it in late 2018.

The cancellation cost taxpayers $13 million for work that had already been done, but Bill Oliver, who was transportation minister at the time, said the province was saving approximately $60 million in construction costs.

On Tuesday, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green echoed that sentiment, saying it was the right decision to cancel the former project and replace it with this one.

"This is the right location for the building," Green said at the announcement in Fredericton.

"It's a unique design, but this courthouse is the right size and recognizes our reality to strike a balance between meeting fiscal responsibilities while investing to serve current and future generations," she said.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

Building to be fitted for remote operations

The new project was developed with the Saint John and Moncton courthouses in mind. The 11,055-square-metre stone building is planned to have six storeys and house 10 courtrooms.

The courthouse will include a detention area, offices for sheriffs, a lobby, security screening area, two hearing rooms, a police office and accommodations for judges.

It will also have spaces for victim services, legal aid, family Crown services, court client services, Crown prosecutions, probation services, a barristers library and suite, and the offices of the registrar of the Court of Appeal.

The building will also have an audio-visual system for remote operations, a secure file storage system and extensive security measures, Green said.

She said initial tenders for site preparations, foundations, and structural steel are expected this fall, followed by later tenders for building construction, commissioning, and fit-up.

The building is expected to be complete by 2025.

'Unacceptable' current courthouse

For more than 40 years, the courts in Fredericton have been housed on Queen Street in what used to be the New Brunswick Teachers' College and, before that, the provincial normal school.

Before that, it was the Fredericton high school about 100 years ago.

Members of the legal community have previously said the building is too old and unsafe.

At the announcement Tuesday, Public Safety Minister and Attorney General Ted Flemming said that it was evident in speaking with judges that a new courthouse is necessary.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

"It was clear that this courthouse where justice was administered in this district judicial district was completely unacceptable," he said.

"Not only was it just unacceptable, I believe that that you could almost make a case that WorkSafe [NB] should have closed the place."

Flemming said Higgs "has an aversion to spending money," eliciting laughter from the attendees. So Flemming teamed up with Green and Minister of Education Dominic Cardy and lobbied for the project.

"This building we have here today is not about wasting money, it's about spending money on infrastructure that is needed," he said.

Some cases to be heard in Burton

For the past months, the Fredericton Court of Queen's Bench has been operating from the Fredericton Convention Centre, with provincial court still operating from the Queen Street courthouse.

On Tuesday the province said as of Jan. 1, 2022, the family division of the Court of Queen's Bench will return to Queen Street.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

Flemming said there will be "remedial work" until the new building is done, but did not provide details.

But the trial division will hear all matters, including jury trials, at the courthouse in Burton.

"All filings of the Court of Queen's Bench for the judicial district of Fredericton will continue to be received by the clerk's office in Fredericton," the province said in a news release.

"Hearings of provincial court and the Court of Appeal will continue to be heard at the Fredericton courthouse."

Burton courthouse to be closed once project is done

Flemming said that although some Fredericton operations have been taking place at the Burton courthouse, the Burton courts will be closed once this new project is completed.

"I'm not sugar-coating anything," he said Tuesday. "The Burton courthouse will not continue as a courthouse when that is done, no sense saying it any other way."

The Department of Transportation will find another use for the building, Green said.

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