RALEIGH — The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they’ve got nothing on the laggard elevators of the old Wake County Courthouse, best known for elevating the blood pressure of people waiting to use them.
Dave Goodwin is a frequent traveler. Squished into the back of a car with lawyers and judges, defendants and their family members, he feels their frustration, as well as their bony elbows and the sharp corners of their brief cases.
“Can you believe these elevators?” people will say when they finally catch a ride, and Goodwin just shakes his head. He doesn’t mention that he’s director of Wake County’s general services administration, in charge of all the county’s buildings and their systems, including these glacial machines.
“Those elevators,” Goodwin says with a sigh. “They’re the bane of my existence.”
The new Wake County Justice Center, opening Monday, will be noticeably different. Many people will be able to take care of their business on the first floor, or will take an escalator out of the atrium to the next level. Courthouse staff will have their own elevators, defendants another elevator, and the public will have 10.
The old 12-story courthouse was supposed to have six elevators, but when it opened in 1970, budget cuts had left it with four. These days, it often has only three working, with one out of commission, its car parked on the ground floor, doors open mockingly.
Newcomers often think none of the elevators function. They come into the building, go through security screening, head across the lobby to the elevator bank and hit the “UP” indicator. When nothing happens after a minute or two, they punch it again.
After a few more minutes, a crowd will gather, and several more people will jab the button. Lights over the elevators indicate that cars are moving, but none seems to come to the first floor.
“Are these things working?” someone will inevitably ask, stepping up to peck the button again. One or two people will curse and head for the stairs. They’re replaced by several more who begin their wait.
Finally, an elevator arrives. But when the doors open, it’s full of people who boarded on the floor below, or rode down from another floor so they could go up to another.
“You can’t be too polite. You just have to push yourself on,” advises Tom Davis, head of the Wake County Bar Association, who has spent a chunk of his career waiting for those elevators.
Regulars in the building have developed strategies for busy courthouse days. Lawyer Robert McMillan often skipped the elevators completely when he was a younger man with a busier practice.
“I couldn’t afford to wait,” he says. “I had to get to court.”
Others go into the county building next-door, take the elevator to the 9th floor and use the skywalk that connects to the courthouse’s 8th floor, then maneuver up or down stairs.
There shouldn’t be any elevator strategies necessary in the new Justice Center. Craig Andersch, manager of the Raleigh office of Schindler Elevator, which manufactured the top-of-the-line machines, hopes people don’t even think about the elevators in the new building.
“You only notice if they don’t work,” Andersch said. “So we hope we have no talk about elevators at all.”