For a complex of separate facilities, we also consider how to connect them for paper and information flow, as well as the movement of people from building to building and within buildings. Technology can help here and in reference to information storage needs, to means of trading equipment for scarce space, and to bettering the timely and complete ability of the court and related agencies to provide public information and effective trial proceedings.

In typical court facility planning projects we have to consider four related issues both individually and as they interact:

  • Population and caseload changes
  • Availability of potential expansion sites
  • Historic preservation and rehabilitation
  • Facility adequacy overall in existing and new buildings.

Facility plans can find long-term success when these issues are compatibly resolved, but textbook examples of the severe constraints they pose are too common in the long histories of court planning projects in most localities.

Population and Caseload Changes

In many communities where population and caseload have been growing steadily, increases often are projected to continue well into the future. Although we prepare caseload forecasts (not merely projections) with the greatest precision and care, futures have a way of answering to no master; the best anyone can do is to prepare for eventualities by specifying benchmarks — facility-growth decision-points — as elements of the facility plan.

Any expansion strategy runs out of steam at some time in the future, under the pressure of caseload. Our response is to devise an expansion strategy which will buy adequate case-processing capacity for a time-span consistent with the investment in the project.

Availability of Potential Expansion Sites

Different communities take different approaches to expansion. Some opt to maintain important historic facilities as operating courthouses in the center of a growing complex, others maintain them while creating the complex elsewhere, others change their use and occupancy so that the historic community center is maintained although the complex moves elsewhere, and still others abandon them altogether while rebuilding a new complex on- or off-site. Whichever the case, the site options are limited.

Historically, the county courthouse was the center of government of the new American counties, but many communities have grown in other directions and left the courthouse symbolically or literally behind. Yet the symbolism of a courthouse is central to our local and national identity; more than any other building a courthouse stands for the continuity of history. Our preference is to retain, where at all possible, the character of the site and courthouse as the center of local government so as to preserve and enhance the image of justice. This vital quality can be hurt by the construction of ill-conceived or insensitive additions chosen solely because they are large enough to satisfy the growing facility needs of the system.

As the historic center of its community, the court site also is important to the local economy through the commercial and professional enterprises which serve the needs of the people using the courts. This is another compelling argument to keep the site symbolically and functionally vital.

Historic Preservation and Rehabilitation

Many courthouses have long-standing claims to historical significance in their location and architectural style but suffer from problems of structural integrity. Our work is guided by this principle: to combine functionality, compatibility with court facility guidelines, and architectural integrity.

Facility Adequacy Overall in the Existing and New Buildings

Court facility adequacy can be measured in reference to four criteria: Spaces, Areas, Accessibility, and Accommodations. They are particularly important when planning the renovation of existing buildings.

First we must provide the necessary spaces before we can be concerned with their size. Secure circulation and spaces, for example, can be difficult to add to existing buildings but their absence is not acceptable or in accord with guidelines. When the plan provides the necessary spaces, then they can be made adequate in size while balancing the available square feet among the various spaces in an effective way. Given the necessary spaces and adequate areas, we go on to consider their accessibility: where the spaces are located, how privacy and security can be achieved, how the public users of the courts can reach the spaces where their business can be conducted, and how the space arrangements of the buildings facilitate the work flow of their occupant agencies. Finally we provide suitable accommodations - the creature comforts - repair the leaks, modernize the toilets, meet ADA requirements, etc.