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Congress Gets Details on Eight New Court Projects

Detailed plans for building eight new federal court facilities have been sent to Congress, spelling out how an unprecedented $947.8 million appropriation included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 will be used to replace buildings that are obsolete, lack adequate security and in many cases are too small to handle current caseloads.

The plan was developed jointly by the federal Judiciary and the General Services Administration (GSA), and provides the first clear road map for projects that have waited a decade or more for funding.

“This is a much needed and welcomed step in replacing unsafe, overcrowded and inefficiently designed courthouses,” said James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “We are grateful that Congress has appreciated that our Judiciary-wide cost containment initiatives have saved money, and has also recognized our most serious needs.”

 “The majority of the funded projects have been on the Judiciary’s construction priority list for more than 15 years,” said Judge D. Brooks Smith, chair of the Judiciary’s Space and Facilities Committee. “Working with the GSA, we have planned appropriate facilities that satisfy the housing and security needs of these courts in an innovative and cost-efficient manner.”

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees must approve the plan, and the congressional committees that authorize courthouse construction must authorize the projects, before construction activities can begin

When the congressional appropriation was approved in December, it was announced that there would be full funding for new courthouses, or annex buildings, for the Judiciary’s top eight courthouse construction priorities: Nashville, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; Greenville, South Carolina; Anniston, Alabama; Savannah, Georgia; and San Antonio, Texas. A ninth project in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was granted partial construction funding.

Projects in Toledo, Charlotte and Savannah will lower projected costs by building annex buildings and keeping some functions in the existing historic courthouses. All projects were updated to meet current staffing needs. In addition, the plans incorporate courtroom sharing policies, and design innovations that make office areas more space-efficient.

In addition to meeting space needs, the projects will eliminate dangerous security and safety conditions. In each project, secure areas will be created so that defendants may be kept away from open parking areas and corridors that they currently share with judges, court staff and the public.

“This investment protects the central role of the courthouse in assuring public confidence in our justice system,” Smith said, adding, “The Judiciary is committed to being careful stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth said, “This investment in our federal courthouses will serve as a catalyst for economic development in these local communities, while addressing the space constraints and security challenges in these aging facilities.”

Additional information is available in a GSA media release, and in the GSA Courthouse Investment Plan Breakdown.The following project details were transmitted to Congress as part of a required spending plan for the $947.8 million in appropriations:

Nashville, Tennessee ($167.4 million). A new U.S. courthouse with about 339,000 square feet, will provide eight courtrooms and 11 chambers. One floor was eliminated from the original project plan, reducing the initial estimate of $181 million.

Toledo, Ohio ($97.8 million). A 96,000-square-foot annex building will house the district court, while a renovated James M. Ashley and Thomas W.L. Ashley U.S. Courthouse (built in 1932) will house the bankruptcy court. The project will provide six courtrooms and eight chambers, and cost less than a previously proposed new courthouse.

Charlotte, North Carolina ($156.2 million). A 198,000-square-foot annex building, along with renovations to the existing Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, will have 10 courtrooms and 15 chambers. The current courthouse was built in 1918.

Des Moines, Iowa ($136.6 million). A new 229,000-square-foot courthouse will replace an existing courthouse and adjoining annex. It will have nine courtrooms and 13 chambers.

Greenville, South Carolina ($94.0 million). A new 193,000-square-foot courthouse will provide seven courtrooms and nine chambers for the district court, which will move into the new building from the C.F. Haynsworth Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.

Anniston, Alabama ($38.2 million). A new 64,000-square-foot courthouse will provide two courtrooms and three chambers, to accommodate three judges.

Savannah, Georgia ($95.5 million). A 46,000-square-foot annex, and the renovation of the historic Tomochichi Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, will provide four courtrooms and five chambers to accommodate five judges.

San Antonio, Texas ($132.6 million). A new 305,000-square-foot courthouse will accommodate the district court, providing eight courtrooms and 13 chambers. The district court currently occupies a building erected for the 1968 World’s Fair, which was not originally designed for courthouse use.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (partial funding of $29.5 million). The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 included partial funding, which will pay for continued feasibility studies and preparation work. The project’s proposed final scope, budget and completion date are still being determined.


Related Topics: Courthouses, Legislation