HANFORD, Calif. (CN) - Kings County held a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this week to celebrate the grand opening of its new courthouse.
Easily the largest government building in Hanford, the 12-room, four-story courthouse is located at 1640 Kings County Drive, west of the county jail and just down the street from the old facility. The building also includes space for two additional courtrooms, should they be needed.
Constructed with copper, bronze and silver-colored concrete and green-tinted glass, the new facility encompasses 144,460 square feet across 9.5 acres and came with a price tag of $124,329,000, or $860.65 per square foot.
Funding was secured through Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008 to provide $5 billion in bonds for new and renovated courthouses in lieu of using taxpayer money from the state's general fund. All costs were covered entirely by the state, which will repay the bond over 25 years.
Award-winning architectural firm DLR Group and co-developer Sundt Construction, one of the nation's oldest construction firms, designed the new courthouse to meet the energy-efficient requirements for LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, a third-party program that established standards for sustainable construction.
"The area leading up to the new courthouse is reflective of the long-dry Tulare Lake and creates a welcoming space for court users to gather. The interior is organized around a central atrium with a skylight that brings abundant natural light into the building. Visitors will be able to easily navigate between floors and departments that branch off from this single space. The lobby also will provide adequate space for accessing security screening and clerk services, and enhanced security will provide separate traffic patterns for the public, court staff, and in-custody detainees. Among the courthouse's sustainability features is a cost-saving air-conditioning system that cools the air by blowing it over ice made at night, when energy rates are lowest," the Judicial Council's website for the new facility states.
Following environmental review mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act, the state Public Works Board approved the project location in 2011. Construction began two years later in the fall of 2013 and was completed on schedule in December 2015.
Due to space restrictions, Kings County's original court facilities in Hanford, the county seat, sprawled across four small, cramped buildings in the downtown government center. Built in the 1970s and early 1990, the aged structures had several physical, accessibility, and security issues including multiple access points that made it difficult to secure the premises; small entrances that forced people to line up outside; lack of a central holding area; no dedicated jury assembly areas; inadequate parking; and problems with HVAC, the electrical system, and plumbing.
The new courthouse combines all court operations in a single, centralized location with a spacious public lobby, roomy waiting areas with plenty of comfortable seating, and an underground tunnel to transfer detainees from the jail to the courthouse. It also offers a self-help center, a children's waiting room, a private file viewing room and ground-level restrooms.
Additional security features include bullet-proof exterior glass in judges' chambers and ballistic panels in the walls, a single entry and exit point at the front of the building and an iron gate surrounding the property.]
Kings County Deputy District Attorney Melissa D'Morias is looking forward to using touch-controlled projectors rather than the courtroom wall to present evidence, and is glad that new courtrooms include white-noise machines that prevent the jury from overhearing attorney conversations with judges, as reported by the Hanford Sentinel.
"From what I've been told, it's going to be a major improvement for us," D'Morias told the newspaper.
Now that the new courthouse is open, it's up to the county to decide what to do with the vacated buildings.
The Judicial Council did not immediately return emailed comment requests. Messages left Thursday for Presiding Judge Steven D. Barnes were not immediately returned.
Founded in 1966, DLR Group is an "integrated design firm" that offers engineering, planning, and interior design services nationwide and in China. It specializes in courthouses, detention center, higher education, retail, and sports arenas. Its total revenue in fiscal year 2012 was roughly $116 million.
Some of the company's designs include the Edward B. Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles, Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Wayne L. Morse United States Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon.
Co-developer Sundt Construction is one of the nation's oldest construction companies. Founded in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1890 by Norwegian immigrant Mauritz Martinsen Sundt, its first projects consisted of houses and farm structures until it was commissioned to build a Methodist church in Tucson, Arizona in 1929.
Almost 15 years later, Sundt was tasked with building the secret Los Alamos government project, an entire town in New Mexico where the first atomic bomb was detonated.
Sundt, a 100 percent employee-owned company, accepts projects in several submarkets including civil, federal, and industrial concrete contracting and laboratories, health care and water treatment, according to its site.
DLR did not return emailed comment requests sent Thursday.
Sundt employee owner Stefanie Teller told Courthouse News in an email that Sundt declined to comment as there was not enough time to contact the client for permission to comment before press deadline.
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