Ground broken on new federal courthouse in Utah

Published: Thursday, Feb. 24 2011 4:50 p.m. MST

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and former U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett break ground at the site of the new United States Courthouse for the District of Utah on the corner of 400 South and West Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — All sides agree, it was a long time coming. And some wondered if the day that approval for a new federal courthouse to be built in Utah would ever come.

"There were some dark days, some very dark days," said Tena Campbell, chief judge for the U.S. District Court of Utah.

After 20 years of trying to secure funding, property and everything else that was needed, ground was finally broken Thursday on a new federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.

"This is a great day. I can hardly wait to see this finished," remarked Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Hatch, former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert and all of Utah's federal judges were among the dignitaries present Thursday for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new United States District Courthouse for the District of Utah.

The new courthouse will be built on the block between Main Street and West Temple and 300 South and 400 South, to the southwest corner of the block where the current Frank E. Moss courthouse stands.

The new building will rise ten stories and have 368,000 square feet. But project managers noted that the building will appear to be larger than ten stories because some of the floors will have 20-foot high ceilings.

Bennett said the building would be, "truly a landmark, memorial architectural treasure."

"It will be a marvelous building," he said.

Bennett received praise from many at the groundbreaking for securing the funding from Congress after years of having to battle for it.

"This has been a very interesting experience for me," Bennett said. "It's a testimony to the growth of the state of Utah that this courthouse is needed."

The new court house will replace the Frank E. Moss building, whose original construction was completed in 1905. The courthouse had renovations in 1912 and 1932, but has remained essentially the same now for nearly 80 years. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

The Frank E. Moss building is known for its elaborate classical revival style of architecture. Those present at Thursday's ceremony conceded that they will likely never see the style of courtrooms again like the ones in the current building.

"We love that building. It's a beautiful, wonderful building. But it doesn't fit our needs," Campbell said. "I have one of the three historical courtrooms. It's the smallest in the building. It's also the most beautiful. I'm happy every time I look at it. I'll miss it. But we've out grown the building."

Security and technology were two of the biggest concerns with the old building.

"It's a wonderful building. But it's just antiquated for security," said Clerk of the Court Mark Jones.

Jones said during the trial of Brian David Mitchell, who was convicted of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, there were occasionally problems with the Smart family and the jury running into each other in the hallway and U.S. Marshals having to hold off one party as the other passed.

Judges, witnesses, jurors and defendants essentially used the same elevators, he said.

The new building will have 14 courtrooms. It will have chambers for district and magistrate judges, two grand jury suites, the U.S. Probation Office, the U.S. Marshal Service, pretrial suites for the U.S. attorney and federal public defender, the 10th Circuit Branch Law Library and the U.S. Federal Court Clerk's Office.

The old Frank E. Moss building will not be left vacant. After getting a seismic upgrade, there are plans to use it for bankruptcy court and other offices.

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