Nearly completed federal courthouse designed to maximize security, natural lighting

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 1:37 a.m. MDT

Construction continues on the new federal courthouse in Salt Lake City Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. Thirty months into construction, the $186 million project is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Construction work on a new federal courthouse is nearly 90 percent complete.

The building at 351 S. West Temple is set to open next spring, and it looks nothing like the stately Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse it is replacing.

The new building doesn’t have a name yet. For now it’s simply known as U.S. Courthouse for the District of Utah. After 20 years of securing funding, property and everything else, ground was broken in January of 2011.

Amy Mills, project manager and sustainability coordinator for Okland Construction, said the building is 87 percent complete, is on budget and on schedule.

The building is 10 stories tall and 410,000 square feet. It will have 10 courtrooms, 14 judges’ chambers, and house the U.S. Marshals Office, the U.S. Probation Office and a records library. It will also have two underground parking levels.

The new courthouse addresses a few concerns of the old building, including the need for space, technology and security. A major issue with the current federal courthouse is the difficulty of separating prisoners, the public and the judiciary and their travel paths, said Alan Camp, project manager for General Services Administration.

“You would have prisoners riding the same elevator as somebody from the public, and that's not acceptable in today's world of court design,” Camp said. “So here in the courthouse we'll have separate travel paths for the judiciary, the public and the prisoner movement."

The new building also meets new perimeter security standards required in all new federal buildings. The building is set back 50 feet from the street.

“There is blast protection built into the perimeter of the building, and there's progressive collapse built into the design of it, so we don't have an Oklahoma City-type event," Camp said.

The Frank E. Moss building’s original construction was completed in 1905. The courthouse underwent 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 building is known for its elaborate classical revival style of architecture.

The new building’s shiny and sterile-looking structure was designed that way intentionally. It is extremely well-lit. There will be no more dark hallways leading into dark courtrooms. The design concept known as daylighting takes advantage of the natural light, so the building has many windows. Each of the courtrooms is built against the exterior walls.

"They really wanted to bring the natural daylight into as many working spaces as possible, including the courtrooms, so it's kind of a unique feature in these courtrooms that we have one full wall of natural daylight pouring into the courtroom,” Camp said.

The daylight allows the courthouse to use less electrical lighting. There are automatic dimmers that will dim lights when the outside light is best.

Not only does it reduce energy costs, the daylighting has been “shown to improve productivity (and) improve mood,” Mills said.

The 10-story atrium also contains a contemporary artwork of suspended hexagonal metal tubes on cables, which also helps reflect light.

The new building also has reflecting pools. “On the west side of the building, at the main entry, we have two reflecting pools — a small one to the south and then a larger one that runs the length of the building to the north,” Mills said.

The project was designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which evaluates energy efficiency and the building's environmental sustainability.

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