Published: Feb 09, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 09, 2013 05:29 PM
Durham County moves into its fourth courthouse Monday, and court officials hope the public will find dealing with Durham’s judicial system a bit more pleasant than in the past.
“If you have to go to the courthouse,” said County Commissioner Brenda Howerton, “it’s nice to feel comfortable about being there.”
Eleven stories tall, the new courthouse stands across Mangum Street from the Durham Performing Arts Center, dominating the view of downtown from the Durham Freeway. It adjoins the Durham County jail and a new, 897-space parking deck. Together, they fill a city block, forming a complex called the Durham County Judicial Center.
“It’s a beautiful building, worthy of being a courthouse,” said Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. “It has respect pouring out of it, and that’s what you want a courthouse to be like.”
Inside the $119 million structure, daylight streams into hallways outside the courtrooms, and into the main courtrooms of Superior and District court.
“This is a magnificent change for anybody who has to spend all day in one,” said Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey.
There are six high-speed public elevators, a staffed kiosk to expedite handling of routine traffic cases, wireless Internet access and what Hudson described as a “state-of-the-art” jury pool room with flat-screen TVs, lockers and coffee.
High-traffic areas such as the clerk of court offices, cashiers, civil filings office, jury pool and community corrections are on the four lower floors, with a staircase County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said, is designed to be attractive and “encourage people to use the stairs.”
The new building will also save money, Commissioner Michael Page said, with sensor-controlled lighting, “green roofs” to control stormwater runoff, and a cistern to hold rainwater for irrigation.
Durham County was created in 1881 and built its first courthouse in 1887. That courthouse was replaced, on the same Main Street site, in 1916. That building now houses county offices, after the courts moved across the street into the Judicial Building in 1978.
By the time the Judicial Building opened, a year behind schedule, attorneys and judicial personnel were saying it was already too small. The new courthouse has 20 courtrooms, with room to expand to 27.
Reckhow said she hopes this time Durham has a courthouse that will serve for a long time to come.
District Court Judge William Marsh, after touring the building under construction last year, said it would be a “tremendous boost for morale,” and Morey said last week that it represents “a new day with our judicial system.”