Montgomery County Circuit Court's new south tower opens

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The south tower of the Montgomery County Circuit Court opened to the public this spring, a new space that connects seamlessly to the existing north tower. The interior is open and accessible, and wide hallways lead to 10 new courtrooms and eight new hearing rooms with state-of-the-art technology. Also in the south tower are family and juvenile departments and drug court coordinators. New offices and facilities support employees of the Clerk of the Court, the Circuit Court, and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department.

The building is LEED-GOLD certified, one of only six buildings and the only courthouse in Maryland to achieve this distinction. Montgomery County Circuit Court Administrator Judy Rupp describes the benefits to the public this way: “Immediately, the public will notice the open access to justice. The careful design created plenty of seating and meeting spaces for the public. Docket displays and wayfinding information is easily available to help guide everyone to where they need to be quickly and efficiently. Having all of the family-related groups in one location and on one floor has already demonstrated a more efficient experience for our visitors.”

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An in-depth interview with Rupp about the new space and the move.

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Montgomery County Circuit Court’s New South Tower Opens

Shortly after the new south tower of the Montgomery County Circuit Court opened to the public Monday, April 28, Court Administrator Judy Rupp answered some questions about the new space and the move.

Congratulations on moving into the new south tower of the Montgomery County Circuit Court. Is that the official name?
Thanks! It was a major team effort and, with lots of planning, the move was very successful. Visitors will see the name Montgomery County Circuit Court outside the building. The two buildings are connected so once inside, people will be directed to proceedings and services in either the north tower (the existing side) or the south tower (the new side). We are so happy to all be under one roof.

What and who are in the new tower?
We have 10 new courtrooms and eight new hearing rooms in the new south tower as well as all Family and Juvenile departments and our Drug Court coordinators. New offices and facilities support employees of the Clerk of the Court, the Circuit Court, and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. Our State’s Attorney’s Office and the Montgomery County Register of Wills offices remain in the north tower.

What are the main features that the public will notice? How do the design and the new space better serve people who visit the courthouse?
Immediately, the public will notice the open access to justice. Large, expansive hallways lead into all courtrooms and hearing rooms. The careful design created plenty of seating and meeting spaces for the public. Docket displays and way-finding information is easily available to help guide everyone to where they need to be quickly and efficiently. Having all of the family-related groups in one location and on one floor has already demonstrated a more efficient experience for our visitors. In one case yesterday, due to the close proximity of two employees, we were able to streamline services to eliminate the need to have an individual stop by multiple times.

How does the new tower help judges and staff?
The judges and masters love their new courtrooms and hearing rooms. The acoustics and the air flow in the courtrooms and hearing rooms are specifically designed for courtrooms settings.

How much did the new tower project cost and how was it funded?
We are grateful to the Montgomery County Council for approving this project after many years of planning and Pam Harris’ and our administrative judges’ hard work to get it funded. [State Court Administrator Pam Harris was Court Administrator for the Montgomery County Circuit Court until July 2013].The new south tower is 190,000 square feet. The total cost of the new tower as well as significant HVAC upgrades and renovations to the north tower is $140 million.

How did the move go? How did you and everyone prepare? When did you move?
The move went so smoothly, it was really wonderful. As the building is new, technology was a key component of the move. Credit goes to Dave Seeman and his amazing Technical Services staff. He spent months ensuring that every detail was thought-out and planned down to a complete inventory of every wall jack and termination point back to every technical closet. We had to move 155 desktops along with printers, copiers, cash registers, and other components in one weekend. Our team from Court Administration took on the planning of all non-technical items. They worked hard for weeks making sure supplies were ordered, movers were coordinated, directories were updated, and many, many, many other tasks were completed successfully. The move took place April 26-27 and was executed flawlessly.

How was opening day on Monday, April 28?
We planned out every detail so that on Monday morning, at 8:30 a.m., we were holding hearings and trials. By 9 a.m., the hallways were quiet and everyone was working. As I mentioned, Dave and his Technical Staff worked tirelessly to ensure desktops, printers, scanners, label makers, fax machines, copiers, and cash registers were all operational when everyone arrived Monday morning. He also worked to ensure telephones, wireless networks, Courtsmart recording, file tracking software and AV in the courtrooms was operational Monday morning.

Name five things that make you proud of the new south tower.
1. First and foremost, I am most proud of all the hard work everyone did, for many, many years, to create such a functional, beautiful facility. The dedication to this project by everyone involved is amazing.

2. Next, Pam’s attention to detail during the design stages resulted in a facility that is very useful and public-friendly. We’re providing a better level of service to the public thanks to the careful design.

3. The building is LEED-GOLD certified, and it is one of only 6 buildings and the only courthouse in Maryland to achieve this distinction. It will be the standard for future county buildings here in Montgomery County.

4. We’re also proud to have all our employees together. It makes it easier and more efficient to get things done and get issues resolved.

5. We really love all the mediation rooms and meeting rooms designed to better serve the public. We have private spaces for attorneys to meet with their clients and our staff to conduct important interviews, meetings and evaluations.

I have to mention one more thing – the technology in the courtrooms and hearing rooms is state-of-the-art and functional. Touch screens are used to direct audio and video functionality throughout the courtroom.

What haven’t we asked that we should have?
Well, I’d like to brag more about the building’s LEED-GOLD certification. Due to its design, we have reduced our water consumption by 45 percent and energy consumption 14 percent relative to similar buildings. We have an innovative storm water management system so that rain water is captured and filtered before it is returned to the watersheds. We have a green roof to reduce the heat island effect and our landscaping is self-sustaining and does not require irrigation. We’re very proud of this distinction.