New courthouse set to open Monday

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 01:40 AM

Some say that in architecture, form should follow function, but in the new Durham County Courthouse, form and function seemed to have formed a special bond that should make the courthouse function better while providing a beautiful space to do business.

The new courthouse, next to the Durham County Detention Center and across from the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in downtown Durham, is scheduled to begin holding court next Monday. But this Monday, county and court officials began giving tours of the new facility.

The 318,533-square-foot courthouse, which includes an outdoor plaza as well as a new 897-space parking deck next door, also includes space for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

The total project cost $119,146,455. O’Brien/Atkins Associates designed the building, and the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company built it. Construction began March 31, 2010.

The difference starts just inside the front door, where there will be three lines for people to go through security checks.

A staircase that leads past a two-story mural made up of historic photographs goes up to the second floor, or folks can head around the corner to the six roomy public elevators that zip up and down the 10-story building.

The busiest areas, where most people will be doing their business, are on the lower floors, said Durham County Engineer Glen Whisler.

Clerks’ offices will be on the lower floors and district court, including the special functioning traffic court area, starts on the third floor.

Traffic court, which sometimes deals with 700 people a day, is designed to get people in and out quickly. A line will form that stretches down the hallway. Then people with a traffic ticket will enter a room where they can talk to a clerk or other court official and possibly resolve and pay the ticket without having to go into the courtroom, said Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey.

While they wait, they can watch a video that explains how traffic court works.

“If you can’t resolve it in this area, then you go into the courtroom,” Morey said.

The idea is that people won’t have to sit in a courtroom waiting for their name to be called because no one will be calling the docket, she said.

“People can come in more at their convenience in the morning and get to work and get to school and not worry about being called and failed,” Moray said.

On the seventh floor are the four superior court courtrooms with a public hallway that looks out over Durham, with even a peek into Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

From the ground floor, sheriff’s deputies can bring defendants in custody up one of two non-public elevators and deliver them directly to the courtrooms. A hallway behind the courtrooms is for the use of the courthouse staff, including judges and clerks.

During the tour of one of the courtrooms, Whisler showed off the TV monitors for those sitting in the gallery, empty areas in the gallery for people in wheelchairs to use, push-button control of the window shades and computer monitors.

The courthouse has 20 courtrooms with room to expand to 27, but there are not enough judges and staff to fill them.

“We need to go over to Raleigh and beg on our knees,” Morey said. “We certainly need more clerks, attorneys and judges.”

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson echoed Morey’s thoughts.

“I think it’s a magnificent building, and with that said it would be our job to make it function the way it’s supposed to and that may be more difficult than it appears. We need more judges and clerks.”

Morey called the old courthouse a decaying carcass.