Right-Sizing Courthouses with the Right Questions
It’s not difficult to guess the top two concerns for clients needing to add court space: How much space do I need, and how much is it going to cost? And the correlation between building size and building cost is an equally simple reality: The larger the facility, the more it will cost.
Whether working with an outside consultant or preparing an internal space needs analysis, asking the right questions and supplying the appropriate information can make a difference in right-sizing the building. Balancing project scope and budget early in the development process is the result of a thorough and accurate assessment of a building.
Courtrooms are the heart of any courthouse. They are also the most expensive spaces and demand the most floor area. So the right questions will address both how the facility is designed as well as the types of processes that may impact the space needs:
- Can courtrooms be shared between judges?
- Do all courtrooms need a jury box?
- How many spectators will be accommodated?
- How many counsel tables are needed in the well area?
- Can smaller hearing rooms take the place of a full-sized courtroom for certain case types?
Answers to these questions determine the size of the courtroom and the flexibility of the courtroom to serve a variety of case types or be limited to very specific proceedings.
Public and Accessory Spaces
Jury assembly rooms and law libraries for the public are large spaces that have traditionally served our courthouses. With the standard use of technology and electronic communication, that may no longer be the case. The law library once filled with volumes of law books and legal resources can now be accessed via computer workstations. While the space can still be part of the overall building area, the size of the room can be significantly reduced.
In an even more cutting edge approach, jurors may not be required to report to a large jury assembly room outfitted with amenities for juror comfort and convenience. Travis County, Texas, is using a direct report system for their juror call. Potential jurors log-in online and are given instructions to report directly to a specific courtroom, all but eliminating the need for a large assembly room where large groups of citizens sit and wait to be called to a courtroom.
Finally, what are the opportunities for shared or combined functions? The long professed benefit of the collegial judicial chamber design is the reduction of support spaces by sharing conference rooms, copy/work areas and reception space amongst a group of judges. The Calaveras County Courthouse took this approach a step farther. Private restrooms for the judicial chambers were replaced with two executive restrooms, one male and one female, within a collegial chamber suite. The executive restroom provided a private shower room for those who exercise or ride to work while simultaneously reducing the overall plumbing fixture count and required floor area.
Asking these types of questions early in the programming and planning process can lead to a new facility that is spatially and operationally efficient. The ability to right-size a courthouse will maximize the use of available funds and avoid making difficult area reductions late in the design process. A new courthouse is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the communities in which they reside. An accurate assessment of the building area charts an early path for success.