New Building Brings Order to the Court
Reported by Ashley Bryant, District Court Operations
The new District Court for Montgomery County may be just steps away from its old location, but its design is “miles ahead” in meeting the needs of the citizens who rely on it.
The new courthouse at 191 E. Jefferson Street opened its doors to the public Aug. 1, 2011. While overlooking decades of judicial history on Courthouse Square, the six-story building’s design and construction firmly focus on the future, addressing the growing needs of the court in the 21st century.
According to Assistant Chief Clerk of Engineering and Central Services Lisa Ritter, the building that the District Court occupied before moving to Jefferson Street was very antiquated and didn’t have secure hallways, which forced the judges, staff, citizens, and people in detention to comingle in the same corridors. “It was a maze,” Ritter said. “The functional use of the space was horrible because it wasn’t laid out to accommodate our current needs. It was great when we started…we needed to grow.”
In addition to growth, caseload and changing mandates, there are several reasons for replacing a building, according to Ritter. “Over the years, the court has evolved and we now need space for other agencies and support groups that come in to provide services to clients,” she said. “We need space for providers who need a private area to confer with their clients.” The new courthouse houses the Office of the Public Defender and the Alternative Dispute Resolution office.
The $72 million project, a collaborative design by DMJM Design and J.A. Ammon and Associates, has added several enhancements and overall structure to the courthouse: nine courtrooms; three hearing rooms; security; public service access terminals with space for researching cases and completing paperwork; all-day commissioner’s office accessibility; and front-door handicapped accessibility. Recently, the court has added two handicapped parking spaces along the side of the building.
The move was challenging and a major concern for Administrative Clerk Judy Lohman was timely file relocation. To avoid confusion and delays, they relocated the files one week in advance of the regular move. Additionally, she and Administrative Judge Eugene Wolfe attended several meetings to ensure the docket boards would display information to meet the court’s needs and ease the case locating process for court visitors.
For court personnel, the move was a much needed improvement. According to Lohman, despite challenges the court has faced, the building has been uplifting for employees. “We’ve moved into this bright, shiny building, plenty of glass, bright sunshine…just that was a big benefit to staff,” she said. “We have a clean, bright, new building and new workstations, and I think that was a huge morale booster for staff.”