Courthouse gets an official dedication
Trials have already been heard in the courtrooms and the district attorneys and the public defenders have already prepared their cases in the offices.
But even though the new Durham County Courthouse has actually been open since the beginning of February, Sunday was the day to officially dedicate Durham’s new county courthouse and marvel at the $120 million facility.
“It’s magnificent,” said County Commissioners Chair Fred Foster.
“It’s extraordinary,” said N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker.
“In the words of Dep. Barney Fife, ‘it’s big, it’s real big, Andy,’” said Clerk of Superior Court Archie Smith III.
It had to be big, said Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson.
Several years before construction began on the facility, in 2010, Hudson was a member of a focus group asked to describe how the courthouse should be.
“We all had a surprisingly simple and uniform answer,” Hudson said. “It had to be huge. It had to be humongous.”
The building is the place “for the battle between good and evil, between justice and injustice,” he added, “and at the end of the day, good has to win and it has to win big.”
And indeed, it is big. Next to the county detention center and across the street from the Durham Performing Arts Center, the new courthouse is seven stories tall and includes more than 318,000 square feet of space.
An imposing structure, it overlooks downtown and offers a striking view of right field at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
It has bike lockers and shower facilities, offices for the sheriff and a slew of criminal justice agencies. It also has 20 courtrooms, expandable to 27.
Several of those who spoke at the official dedication recalled the days when the old Durham courthouse — not the immediate ancestor, but the one before that — had just one superior courtroom.
And “when I began my career as police officer for the city of Durham, in 1959, the police office was in the basement of the old courthouse,” remembered Worth Hill, the former county sheriff.
The official dedication included a ceremonial ribbon cutting, self-guided tours, music in the front lobby by the Stanley Baird Jazz Group, balloon decorations and even pieces of cake.
It also was an opportunity for a bevy of sitting and retired judges and local political officials to gather, shake hands, hug and congratulate themselves that the building came in on time, and on budget.
The mood was light and festive, but Parker reminded the attendees that the dedication needed to be more than ceremonial.
“We are here,” she said, “not to dedicate just a building but to dedicate ourselves — to the idea of justice for all.”