New federal courthouse functional on the inside, a little austere on the outside (+photos)
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's new federal courthouse will be open for business on Monday.
"This has been a long time coming," said Susan Damour, regional administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration for the Rocky Mountain Region.
On Wednesday, members of the General Services Administration, the new building's landlord, and Okland Construction, which built the courthouse, gave members of the media a tour of the nearly 410,000-square-foot facility.
The new building, located at the corner of 400 South and West Temple, replaces the adjacent Frank E. Moss Courthouse, whose original construction was completed in 1905 and hadn't had any major additions or renovations in 80 years.
What the new building brings, in addition to much needed space, is tighter security and a much more energy efficient building.
"It meets so many needs in one building," Damour said.
In the current federal courthouse, prisoners and judges would sometimes find themselves in the same area, she said. Judges, witnesses, jurors and defendants essentially used the same elevators in the old building. During the high-profile trial of Brian David Mitchell, U.S. marshals had to be careful not to let Elizabeth Smart and the jury cross paths in the hallways.
The other achievement being boasted in the new building is energy use, specifically with light.
"The building was built to capture as much sunlight as possible," said Amy Mills, with Okland Construction, who was the project manager for construction of the courthouse.
The building's interior has many white walls and floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular views of the valley. The main art features are the 380 suspended light pillars, positioned in a grid to reflect natural sunlight, a three-story circular glass staircase and a 10-story atrium.
The new courthouse uses 20 percent less water than the Moss building. It was built using 20 percent recycled materials, and 55 percent of the subcontract work was performed by local small businesses. The new courthouse also received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
White oak and cherrywood were used in the hallways, floors and courtrooms.
But while the inside of the new courthouse is being praised for improvements in security, space and energy efficiency, the outside of the structure has raised many eyebrows around Salt Lake City.
The square shaped, silver-colored building has garnered the nickname "The Ice Cube" by some. The modern design of the new courthouse is a 180-degree difference from the Frank E. Moss Courthouse, known for its elaborate classical revival style of architecture and some of its ornate courtrooms. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
"I think the stark difference between this building and the Moss building wasn't the design intent. I think the design intent was to maximize square footage so you had the most usable space within the footprint," Mills said. "Early on, it wasn't a square building. And then they had to shift the shape because security requirements demand a 50-foot setback after 9/11."
The new security regulations, which required the building to be away from the road by a certain distance, forced the designers to mold the building into a new shape.
"It's a little austere. It kind of has an imposing presence. But then when you get in the building and you interact with the space and the light, it's almost a dual personality. And if you get up close to the sunscreens and you see the texture on the building, to me it becomes more organic," Mills said.
The textured windows allow the interior of the courthouse to remain at nearly a constant temperature, putting less strain on the HVAC systems. Ninety-nine percent of solar rays don't enter the building, she said.
The new courthouse will have 10 courtrooms in addition to grand jury rooms. It will also house the U.S. Marshal's Office and other government agencies.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court will remain in the old federal courthouse. There are discussions in place whether to move the U.S. Attorney's Office into the old building, according to project managers.
Construction crews plan to upgrade the old courthouse's seismic safety features. In addition, Mills said there are plans to turn the area between the old and new courthouse into a plaza.
Ground for the new courthouse was broken in February of 2011. But the idea of a new building had been tossed around since 1991, Damour said. She gave thanks several times to former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, for being able to finally secure the funding from Congress for the building after years of having to battle for it.
To make room for the new courthouse, the popular Port O' Call bar was bought out and Odd Fellows Hall, a 118-year-old building, was moved — one of the heaviest moving projects in Utah history.
For the first three months after ground was broken, the area became an archeological site when workers, after removing the black top from a parking lot, found an old printing and blacksmith shop. Thousands of historic artifacts were discovered, including plates, pottery, a wagon wheel and dozens of old signs, according to the General Services Administration.
Construction of the new building finished on time in March. Because a lot of the construction was done during a down time in the economy for new growth, the entire project came in at $181 million, about $25 million less than what was originally budgeted, Mills said.
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