Sleek justice center is on the rise in downtown Raleigh

Security, swift and plentiful elevators, grand views on tap

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comJanuary 16, 2012 

Prime downtown location, spectacular views, 577,000 sq. ft. of sparkling new office/courtroom space, snack bar, secure underground pkng, 5-story atrium, 17 elevators, enviro. efficient, June '13 move-in.

RALEIGH -- The new Wake County Justice Center has been rising at the corner of Salisbury and Martin streets since spring 2010, and it's increasingly clear how it will look and work for the thousands of taxpayers, employees, criminal defendants, judges and lawyers who will use it annually.

A tour of the facility allowed in-progress views of some of the features of the imposing building, which is ahead of schedule and, at about $183 million, more than $20 million below its originally estimated cost.

Hold it right there: Everyone who enters the building will go through a security checkpoint that includes metal detectors, whether coming in from the main entrance on Salisbury Street or the alternate at the corner of McDowell and Martin. Cameras monitor activities throughout the building.

Step to the rear, please: Judges, jurors and criminal defendants will no longer mingle on elevators, as they do at the older Wake County Courthouse across Salisbury - multiple sets of elevators will cure that. And as opposed to their much-maligned counterparts in the old courthouse, these elevators are state-of-the-art as well as more numerous.

"They are the fastest you can get for a building of this height," said Phil Stout, Wake County facilities design and construction director. "There should not be a want for elevators."

Up on the roof: In various spots around the building, doors open to low-walled outside areas with good views of downtown. The offices of the county commission chairman, clerk of court and county manager happen to have doors that open on to such areas.

The area with access from the offices of commissioners' chairman and county manager is about 900 square feet, has a concrete surface and seemingly could hold tables and chairs, perhaps even a gas grill. What would that be called, a terrace?

"It's a roof," Stout said firmly. "You have to have access to a roof."

Come one, come all: The current meeting room for the Wake County Board of Commissioners holds 135 people and is rarely filled to capacity, sometimes barely filled at all. But should crowds clamor to attend board meetings in 2013 and beyond, the new building will accommodate about 240 of them in a room on the building's second floor, conveniently reachable by stairs or elevator.

Who's moving in? New criminal courtrooms, as well as the clerk of court, public defender, register of deeds, county attorney, revenue department, the board of commissioners, county administrative offices and public records. There's not much room for arguing about who should get a bigger office; Wake decided years ago to cap officials' offices at 280 square feet.

Who's not moving in? Wake's civil and family courts, estates and wills, juvenile services and some other offices will mostly remain in the current courthouse. Secure tunnels connect the old and new courthouses, as well as the John H. Baker Public Safety Center, where inmates and defendants are housed.

Back to the future: The new building contains a floor that's ready to be turned into four additional courtrooms should they be needed. The county has already bought the sheetrock and metal studs necessary to refit the vacant space. "There's room to grow," said county manager David Cooke. "That whole building could be courtrooms."

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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