Court comes to order at Chatham Justice Center

$21 million facility is one-stop destination for court business

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJanuary 2, 2013 

  • Open House A grand opening ceremony and public tour will begin at 2 p.m. Friday at the new Justice Center, 40 E. Chatham St. After a ribbon-cutting on the courthouse steps, Chatham court officials will hold an opening session in Courtroom 3A (on the third floor). The ribbon-cutting will move to the second-floor foyer in case of bad weather.

— The halls of justice were brighter, more secure and ready to serve the public when the Chatham County Justice Center officially opened Wednesday.

Clerk of Superior Court Sam Cooper and his staff spent two weeks last month hauling files and personal effects roughly a block from the Courthouse Annex Building to 40 E. Chatham St. The building opened for business Dec. 17 while audiovisual technicians finished running wires, cleaning staff polished and vacuumed, and maintenance crews made sure the toilets and lights worked.

The 90,000-square-foot classically designed courthouse is flanked by white columns and native plants. Built for roughly $21 million, it’s a one-stop center for court business.

“We’re going to have the luxury of space, and it will be its own experiment to some degree” about the influence of space on behavior, Cooper said. “I would expect it to be a positive influence.”

Points of order

• The Justice Center lines up directly with the copper cupola of the Historic Pittsboro Courthouse’s and the tower atop the Courthouse Annex Building.

• “Bob the Pig,” a smoky figurine that survived the 2010 courthouse fire, now has a home under glass in the judges’ suite. A plaque commemorates his experience.

• The Chatham County Board of Commissioners will meet in the renovated second floor of the Historic Courthouse. The building is expected to reopen in March.

• Corley Redfoot Architects incorporated lessons learned in the Orange County Courthouse expansion, Cooper said. Clancy & Theys of Greensboro managed the construction.

• The move frees space in the Courthouse Annex Building for the Register of Deeds office and a bigger county manager’s office. The county’s Information Technology office will move into a temporary courtroom at 158 West St.

Efficient space

• The Justice Center will house the district attorney’s office, the public defender, judges, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Community Corrections, Probation Services, Chatham 360, Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities and the Guardian ad Litem program.

• Four courtrooms on two floors will replace two courtrooms located blocks apart. Three courtrooms have jury boxes and share a jury assembly room – a first for Chatham County – with seats for more than 100 people.

• The facility will have a larger Clerk of Superior Court’s Office with a waiting room, staff training room, and space for paperwork, storing files and accepting payments. The clerk’s office also has a locked evidence storage room and a separate hearing room. It will end the “musical chair competition for space,” Cooper said.

• Oversize windows and wooden slat-lined mezzanines to let in natural light, more than 100 geothermal wells for heating and air-conditioning, and solar water heating

Tighter security

• There will be one public entrance with X-ray scanners, metal detectors and 109 security cameras throughout the building

• Court officials have a secure parking lot with a separate entrance.

• Sheriff’s deputies will bring inmates each morning through two secure parking lots and a ground-level garage. A basement security pod controls four holding cells, and individual courtrooms are accessible by a secure elevator.

• The facility has large inmate holding cells on the second and third floors. Interview rooms allow defendants to talk privately with attorneys and other court officials

21st-century technology

• The courthouse has $380,000 in audiovisual and courtroom technology, operating on an HDMI backbone. Wireless touch panels let judges control lights and audiovisuals.

• Touch-screen monitors and write-over technology let court officials share information quickly and efficiently, said Tom Santosky of Technical Service Audio Visual of Athens, Ga.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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