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December 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Knowing the Rules: Team of Court Managers Builds Training on Space and Facilities

How do I get the court space we need within our budget cap? Are we paying appropriate rent for the space we already have? What technology will attorneys and jurors need in the courtroom in the coming years? Every court unit executive has asked these and other questions about their court space and facilities.

Ten court managers, members of the Training Program Planning Team, hope to provide answers. Over the next few months, they’ll identify specific training needs in five areas: circuit rent caps, courtroom technology and communications, asset management planning, rent validation, and basic space and facilities planning. The materials will be developed into a comprehensive training curriculum.

“There have been a number of changes in the way we manage space and facilities. One court executive described it to me as a ‘sea change.’ At the same time, we’ve given more and more responsibility in this area to our unit managers,” said Chief Judge Joseph F. Bataillon (D. Neb.), chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities. “For example, courts now need to predict their space needs, know how to obtain additional space, and when to consider cost-effective alternatives. Our goal is to make unit managers more proficient, to make sure they are familiar with the space and facilities program, know how it works, and how best to implement it for their courts.”

Susan Thurston is a team member and clerk of court in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Rhode Island. “As court unit executive positions turn over, we need to have comprehensive space and facilities training and resources available. In the past, many of us have relied on phone calls to other courts and independent research to find out how to manage space and facilities. We need a better way to know how to get the work done,” Thurston explains. “Although some information and training is available, some areas—like courtroom technology—haven’t been updated in many years and need to be refreshed, while other areas—such as rent validation and circuit rent budgets—are brand new and we need education and materials.”

The target group for the training is mainly court unit executives, but also court staff and managers who may deal with space and facilities issues in the course of their jobs.

“There is a whole series of topics touching on space and facilities with policies and processes set by the Judicial Conference, by the General Services Administration, and by statute for which we have responsibility,” said team member Bruce Rifkin, clerk of court in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. “This is an effort to provide consistent training, with court staff involved with development right from the get-go. We can define what we need to succeed and who needs to be trained.”

The team looks to the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) to get started. Jim Buchanan, a senior education specialist with the FJC, will work with the group to design the curriculum. He previously helped develop the 1996 Capital Construction Program training modules.

“This is the first time we’re taking a look at the many parts of space and facilities management,” said Buchanan. “It’s a remarkable opportunity to design training that fits all the pieces together. Our goal is to develop training that helps court unit executives and managers take new information and put it to work on the job.”

Each of the team members has volunteered to help develop one or more of the training areas, including what they’ve dubbed Space and Facilities Planning 101, an area Thurston selected. “We named it that,” she said, “because we hope to make it a basic explanation of what we are entitled to, the service levels we should expect for space and facilities, and also how to get problems resolved in a timely manner.”

Buchanan has set up a website where the team can exchange files and e-mail. “It’s exciting to work with the court team,” he said. “They’re a very talented group and many have worked with the FJC previously on developing training programs. They’re not new to this.”

An objective for Buchanan and the planning team is to develop not only lesson plans, but what Buchanan calls “reinforcing exercises.” For example, the rent validation curriculum will include a primer on validation as well as exercises in finding discrepancies in blueprints on how space is assigned.

The goal is to outline training and lesson plans for each curriculum module by mid-February, using templates developed by the FJC. “We’re not creating content from scratch,” Buchanan said. “We’re really bringing lots of information together and making it accessible. The bottom line will be to look at the scope of space and facilities materials and teach it from that system-wide view.”

When completed sometime this spring, the team hopes to introduce the different training curriculums with circuit-by-circuit visits. On-line modules are also possible.

“All issues of space and facilities planning are in play now,” said Bataillon. “The Conference has approved and business rules are finalized for circuit rent budgets. Asset management and space validation are in place. It’s time to be sure everyone knows the rules. And it’s important to begin the training cycle as soon as possible.”