Project combines newest courtroom design and needs in an historic building
Fort Wayne, Ind. – Allen Superior Court has unveiled a new courtroom that seamlessly blends the latest in judicial design and technology with the historic integrity of a century-old courthouse.
After struggling for years with limited space, growing calendars and aging technology, Allen Superior Court Judges embarked on a project with the Allen County Commissioners and others that resulted in a cutting-edge courtroom experience for Judges, staff, litigants and jurors.
“When our Courthouse opened in 1902, no one thought of the needs the judiciary would face in the 21st Century,” said Superior Court Judge Stanley Levine. “Breathtaking art and architecture do not always provide the tools we need in today’s world.”
Only one courtroom, Courtroom 107 on the first floor of the Courthouse, had any potential for expansion. The courtroom had not been updated since the early 1990s. It was cramped, with limited seating and juror space. Its presentation technology was outdated and jurors had to head elsewhere in the Courthouse for breaks and deliberations. Even the judge’s bench was positioned at an angle that made it hard to conduct business.
Courtroom 107 is used primarily by Civil Division Judges, whose complex calendar of cases need modern audio/video presentation and recording systems, ample jury and spectator spaces and access for the disabled.
Judges Levine, Nancy Eshcoff Boyer and Frances C. Gull partnered with Commissioner Linda Bloom, who for many years has been the commissioners’ point person on Courthouse operations, to negotiate reallocation of Courthouse space and to manage construction. Allen County Buildings and Grounds builders, electricians and carpenters worked three shifts a day to complete the project. Vance Hernandez, Director of Buildings and Grounds, worked in tandem with the Judges and Commissioners to make sure the project went to plan.
Superior Court also sought the input of an architect, Ed Welling of Grinsfelder Associates Architects, to make sure the project met the Court’s objectives.
“Allen County’s building department does incredible work,” said Judge Boyer. “But we wanted to make sure this project would meet the Court’s needs now and for many years to come. So we invested additional resources in the help of an architect who could optimize the space and design it around the flow of the courtroom process.”
The Allen County Law Library gave up much of its square footage, a change made possible by the prioritization of its law book collection and the online availability of information. The Courthouse Preservation Trust relocated as part of the project.
“While Allen County has grown by leaps and bounds, its Courthouse hasn’t grown an inch in 115 years,” said Judge Gull. “In order for our courtroom to grow, someone else had to give up space. The generosity that greeted us really showed what can happen when we work together to implement significant priorities of our Courts.”
The project resulted in a facility that is already attracting visitors from around the state interested in seeing the latest in cutting-edge courtroom technology and design. It was formally unveiled Thursday, as part of the fall meeting of the Judicial Conference of Indiana.
The courtroom more than doubled in size, to 1,945 square feet. A newly built jury room is accessible directly from the courtroom. The jury room also doubles as meeting space. The larger courtroom also allowed for expansion of space for plaintiff and defendant attorney tables.
Other improvements included:
* Growing the jury box from 6 to 12 seats. The additional juror space made the courtroom more flexible for use by criminal division courts as well as the civil courts.
* Doubling the amount of spectator seating, where potential jurors wait to be selected.
* Making the courtroom, including the judge’s bench, fully ADA compatible.
The vendor that provided the old courtroom’s digital presentation and recording system invested significant time, energy and enthusiasm to update the system and create a showcase of how technology can make the courtroom experience more effective.
“As incredible and historic as our Courthouse is, it is not a museum,” said Commissioner Bloom. “It is an operational facility visited by thousands of people every year. Projects like this one, which respect the history of our Courthouse and that make sure it meets today’s needs, are an accomplishment that everyone involved is proud of.”