Springfield court eyes move to Eastfield Mall theaters as social-distancing solution

The state could move proceedings from the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in the city’s downtown to the former Eastfield Mall movie theaters, which provide more space for social distancing and precautions against the spread of COVID-19

Chuck Breidenbach, managing director of mall owner MDC Retail Properties Group, said Monday the state has expressed a desire to start hosting court proceedings at the Boston Road mall in March. He hopes to get a final deal signed soon.

“The theaters are really perfect for that because there is plenty of seating and plenty of space to spread out,” Breidenbach said.

The state would be in charge of security. The courts would also be separated from ongoing vaccination efforts in the former Macy’s and COVID testing site in the mall’s parking lot.

Like a lot of smaller malls around the country, Eastfield has lost many of its stores, including large anchor tenants leaving it with available space and lots of parking.

Back in November, the state announced plans to move jury trials from the Berkshire County Courthouse in Pittsfield out to the largely shuttered Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, though it never occurred.

Cinemark abruptly abandoned its 16-screen Eastfield Mall theaters in Jjune, trashing much of the cinema equipment before it left so the mall couldn’t quickly rent to another theater.

But Breidenbach said the destroyed equipment doesn’t stop the space from being a courtroom.

“Unless the judge needs Dolby surround sound or a projection system, we will be OK,” he said. “Those theaters are perfectly set up for courtrooms.”

The court arrangement at the mall would be temporary, Breidenbach said.

But the Roderick Ireland Courthouse on 50 and 80 State St., has a well-known and apparently growing problem with mold that predates COVID-19. The building’s ventilation system is upside down, drawing diesel exhaust into the building.

Two district court judges who worked in the building have died from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS. The late Judge William Boyle was the second judge to be diagnosed with the rare neurological disorder. He and his physicians linked environmental factors at the courthouse to his illness.

Other employees at the building have complained about fatigue and other illness attributed to the building.