Elements of Success in Courthouse Expansion Design
Courthouses are special. They require more than just a convenient flow between spaces. Their functional complexities and the added importance of security for public and the staff require an extra level of attention and expertise to get it right. During a court expansion project, these high-use, critical-need facilities must remain operational throughout construction. Secure inmate delivery and transport must be at the forefront of planning discussions both during construction and in the final design. Secure inmate movement is pivotal to a modern courthouse, and the strength of any solution must not only account for this, but make it work seamlessly and efficiently.
The planning process begins with extensive fact-finding that touches on all aspects of the project to fully understand the opportunities and challenges of the proposed expansion and to ensure that solutions consider the facility holistically. A successful court expansion project includes the following elements:
Right Size the Expansion – Developing an affordable and buildable space program must thoroughly address current and future needs of the court system. Programming for courthouse expansions should maximize the use of existing area and account for potential efficiencies as the result of collocating like functions. Reuse or repurposing of older courtrooms that may lack ADA accessibility or secure inmate delivery will be critical to meeting the needs of the court.
Building Connectivity – Maintaining or establishing the required separate circulation systems (public, private, and secure) is essential for the success of the new addition. How and where these circulation systems connect will be paramount when developing planning options. As the overall size of the courthouse grows with the expansion, the size and accommodations of the public entry will also need to be considered. Added queuing space, the addition or increase in screening stations, and ultimately the ideal location for the entry become part of the building connectivity conversation.
Project Phasing – Phasing and building connectivity are interrelated planning elements. Planning options should outline the steps it will take to arrive at the finished building solution. Some options may offer better phasing strategies by limiting departmental moves and avoiding disruption during construction. This is especially true if re-work of the public entrance is part of the final solution.
Future Proof Solution – Planning for future needs impacts both programming and planning exercises. The space-needs program must identify future growth and the planning options must account for how this additional area will be provided. Future proofing the addition will set in place the means and methods for accommodating growth and focus on preserving the initial investments made with the building expansion.
Parking Impact and Site Utilization – Planning options for a new addition should address any impacts to existing site conditions. In many cases, the area available for building expansion occurs over existing surface parking. How parking needs are addressed, what site infrastructure is affected, and how site accessibility is altered all play a role in project cost and long-term usability of the site.
Sensitivity to Appearance of Finished Product – A new addition should strive to create a unified civic campus. The finished appearance should communicate the “importance” building in the delivery of justice, and it should complement the architecture of the existing building. Material selection is not only important in blending with the established aesthetics, but must address maintainability and durability to promote a minimum 50-year solution.
Solving space needs within our court buildings is an ongoing process. With limited budgets and a trend to extend the life of existing facilities, courthouse expansions are viable and necessary solutions and a trend in Courthouse deisgn. Asking the right questions early in the planning process and knowing what to consider will help ensure the expansion meets the desired end goals.