A lawsuit seeking to shutter the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield over health and safety concerns has been settled. Details of the agreement were released on Tuesday.
The plaintiffs, including current and past workers at the facility, sued several state officials. They said conditions at the building have led to several cases of ALS, cancer and other ailments among employees and that the building is not safe for the staff or the public.
Under the deal, the courthouse will remain open. The state agreed to make many repairs. Extensive work will be done to the building’s ventilation system, including installing filters to take out possible mold and fiberglass particles from the HVAC system. Other filtration will also be put into place. Regular air quality testing will also take place inside the courthouse.
At a press conference outside the courthouse, the plaintiffs’ attorney Jeffrey Morneau said he was pleased with the agreement.
“Through this result, we got much more than I think you could have ever really gotten at trial," Morneau said. "I mean, all of the things that are included in that settlement agreement are not things that were part of this case."
The agreement calls for further mold remediation, removing and replacing water-damaged carpet and ceiling tiles as well as providing additional training to maintenance staff on how to deal with mold. Inspections of the building’s roof and exterior windows will take place.
A deep cleaning of the entire courthouse will also be conducted in early-July and will cause it to close for at least a few days surrounding the Independence Day holiday weekend. If cleaning takes longer than expected, the facility could be closed longer.
Current and former workers at the building will also have the opportunity to undergo an “occupational health assessment and evaluation”. Th voluntary screening will help determine if any health concerns someone has could be tied to conditions at the building.
To make sure the agreement is being followed, the state has also agreed to hire a third-part settlement monitor. They will also take confidential feedback from current staffers if there is concern about conditions in the courthouse.
Morneau said a victory at court would have meant just that the courthouse would have been closed and a judge likely would not have ordered everything in the settlement.
He also took aim to the eastern part of the state during his prepared remarks.
"We all know that if this courthouse was located in Boston, or just about in any county east of Worcester, it would have been torn down, courthouse operations and employees would have been relocated and a new, modern, more efficient courthouse would have been built a long time ago," Morneau said.
One of the plaintiffs was Hampden County Register of Deeds Cheryl Coakley-Rivera. She previously pulled her staff from the building saying it was not safe for them. The former state legislator said it took suing in order to get the Trial Court’s attention.
"All of the sudden, from nothing wrong and just clean the windows, to $100 million worth of problems," Coakley-Rivera said. "How did we get there? ... Because of the lawsuit. That's the only reason why they responded."
Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi has also been refusing to bring people in his custody to the courthouse because he said it is not safe for them.
“I am hopeful that the agreement reached relative to the lawsuit over the health concerns at the courthouse will provide some relief to the people who work there and make it safe to once again bring our justice-involved individuals to the building," he said in a statement. "But even after the deep cleaning takes place, we will continue our inspections to ensure the building is and remains safe and free from mold and other health hazards.”
The settlement includes details on a feasibility study for a new courthouse. In the deal, the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance agrees to conduct the previously announced study, while giving monthly updates as to its progress. The report is expected to be completed by next June.
Morneau, the plaintiff’s attorney, said he is hopeful this will lead to a new courthouse in Springfield instead of repairs.
"Unless that number is something like $500 million, it just doesn't make any practical sense and we're optimistic that once that is done, and people sit down at a table with the information, that they will make the right decision, which at the end of the day is to put a new courthouse here in Hampden County," he said.
The state also has agreed to continue planning for renovations to the current courthouse. That work is expected to begin in 2024, unless a new facility is approved.
In a statement the Massachusetts Trial Court called the agreement "comprehensive."
"We firmly believe that this agreement is in the best interests of everyone – judges, staff, attorneys, and the public. Our primary concern continues to be the safety of everyone who uses the courthouse," the statement read.
This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media.