Courthouse Design and Finance

Resource Guide

A well-designed courthouse facility has the ability to embody the court’s essential principles of openness and fairness, providing accessibility and security while allowing the judicial process to move forward unhindered and with increased efficiency and effectiveness. This topic provides standards and guidelines to follow when designing a modern courthouse that is secure, productive, and accessible to the public, as well as resources describing successful child-care programs based upon individual community needs.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Featured Links

The National Center for State Courts Partnership as a Strong Foundation. (June 2017).

On June 8, 2017, the National Center for State Courts facilitated a session to identify the values and vision that Court judges and staff hold for the new Courthouse. The facilitated session was a first step toward a shared community vision. Ultimately, broad engagement of partners and stakeholders, community members, and public officials will ensure that the Courthouse has a meaningful place in the Lane County and downtown Eugene landscape for years to come.

Yeh, Chang-Ming, Don Hardenberg, Todd Phillips Retrospective of Courthouse Design 2001-2010. (2010). Includes 95 project examples collected in the publication, featuring a full range of court jurisdictions, including federal, state, local and international courts.
Guide to Funding Options for Court Facilties. (2014).

Report prepared by the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts that examines the latest trends in court facility financing.


Access and Fairness.

CourTools - Trial Court Performance Standards Measure Number 1.

Facility Management Vendors.

Facility Management Vendors from the Court Technology Vendor List.

Facility Planning. Court Consulting Services can help you design a long-term implementation plan or lay out short-term enhancement alternatives through comprehensive strategic planning that integrates architecture, technology/security, court operations and procedures.

NCSC's Americans with Disabilities Act Topic.

NCSC's module on the ADA and court related resources.

Courthouse Design

Thacker, Gerald. Federal Courthouse. (2012). As part of design guidance from the Whole Building Design Guide, this resource provides information on attributes of federal courthouses.  In addition to the traditional life-safety and health concerns common to all buildings, federal courthouse facilities must adhere to guidelines for their aesthetics, security, adjacency and circulation, barrier-free access, mechanical/electrical systems, automation, acoustics, interior finishes, and signage. 
California Trial Court Facilities Standards (draft). (2011). San Francisco: Judicial Council of California The California Administrative Office of the Courts has the responsibility for design, construction, and management of court facilities, and they have determined that it is prudent to develop standards reflecting the best practices and successful solutions for basic components of the trial court building. The (draft) standards listed in this resource will apply to the design and construction of court facilities.
Hall, Nathan. Implementing Collegial Chambers as a Means for Courtroom Sharing. (2010). Future Trends in State Courts. The evolution of the courthouse work environment has dictated that architects and planners rethink traditional courthouse design arrangements. One significant trend is a shift away from traditional courtroom/chambers arrangements in favor of collegial chambers and shared courtroom configurations.
Hall, Nathan. Green Courthouse Planning and Design. (2009). Future Trends in State Courts.

The field of courthouse planning and design is currently undergoing a transformation in the process by which buildings are conceived and built. The driving force behind this tranformation is the changing environmental and economic landscape, which has created a national trend to build courthouses that incorporate sustainable building principles.

Guidelines for New York State Court Facilities. (2009). New York State Unified Court System The New York Unified Court system provides this resource of rules for the Chief Judge which outlines the basic guidelines for New York State court facilities.
Fautsko, Timothy F. Entry Screening: The Court's First Line of Defense. (2008). Future Trends in State Courts.

Universal entry screening of everyone who enters a courthouse - the public, staff, and judges - is an essential part of any court security program. NCSC's Security Assessment Team has developed a four-phase plan courts can use to implement universal entry screening.

Zeruba, John E. Courthouse Security - A Direction or a Destination?. (2007). Justice System Journal (Vol. 28, No. 1).

To ensure that courthouses "meet today's standards of protection," the author outlines a three-step process that includes a threat analysis, a court facility site survey, and a court security committee.

U.S. Courts Design Guide. (2007). Washington, D.C.: Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Committee on Security and Facilities and the Subcommittee on Space Standards This guide serves as a planning tool for federal judges and key judicial personnel who are directly involved in the design of a federal court facility. Second, it provides relevant information for the General Services Administration (GSA) and an architecture/engineering (A/E) team to plan, program, and design a functional, aesthetically appropriate, and cost-effective court facility. Last, it provides policy guidance for the overall planning, programming, and design of federal court facilities throughout the United States and its territories.
Feiner, Edward A. Securing Our Future. (2007). Justice System Journal (Vol. 28, No. 1).

The author presents a "philosophical discussion" of the effects that securing the country's courthouses will have on the public's perception of their government and other civic institutions.

Kentucky Court Facilities Criteria. (May 2007). Frankfort: Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts sets the criteria for court facilities eligible for AOC funding.  This resource outlines the uniform space (facility) allowances for those court facilities eligible for financial support.
Pamphlet: IT Considerations for Courthouse Design. (April 2007). Supreme Court of Ohio. Technology Services Section When building or renovating a courthouse, it is important to consider the implications of all today’s technology.  Things such as networking wiring, telephone wiring, special facilities for the computers, and space for the IT Personnel are all important considerations.  This pamphlet provides a brief overview of such issues.
Kentucky Court Facilities Design Guide. (May 2007). Frankfort: Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts "This resource sets forth design guidance (requirements) to be used in the development of a design for Court Facilities, Court Support Facilities and Administrative Facilities within the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which are supportable, totally or in part, with Commonwealth of Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts funds. It is applicable to all construction projects, including additions, alterations, adaptations, rehabilitations, and conversions."--Web site.
Report on Oregon Court Facilities. (December 2006). Court Facilities Task Force The Task Force on Oregon Court Facilities identified three issues, which it addressed through research and this resulting report: defining guidelines for adequate court facilities, exploring different options for ownership of court facilities (state versus local), and exploring options for financing the replacement, renovation, and repair of facilities as appropriate. 
Hardenbergh, Don. Trends in Courthouse Design. (2004). Future Trends in State Courts.

This article focuses on the future of courthouse design and includes such topics as child care, public access and accommodation, natural lighting, and planning for future growth and expansion.

Hardenbergh, Don, and Todd S. Phillips, eds. Retrospective of Courthouse Design, 1991-2001. (2001). Williamsburg, Va.: National Center for State Courts This classic publication features courthouses of many different styles that were built between 1991 and 2001.  Included in the retrospective are U.S. courthouses, state appellate courts, general-jurisdiction trial courts, municipal and limited-jurisdiction courts, family and juvenile courts, and a section on renovations and additions. 
Hardenbergh, Don. Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines. (2001). The Judicial Council of Virginia adopted these guidelines to initiate improvements in their court facilities. These guidelines will significantly enhance the ability of courts to discharge their responsibilities in a safe, efficient, and convenient environment.
Nebraska Courts Facility Planning: Guidelines and Standards. (1999). Supreme Court of Nebraska The Supreme Court of Nebraska has provided these guidelines to assist local and county officials identify and solve their facility problems in such a way to meet current and future needs.  The standards for courtrooms and court offices are suggested for all renovations and new construction.
Courthouse Construction: Better Courtroom Use Data Could Enhance Facility Planning and Decisionmaking. (May 1997). Washington, D.C.: United States General Accounting Office This report outlines a study of selected judicial districts and courthouses to determine how often and for what purposes courtrooms have been used by U.S. District Court judges. It also examines what steps the judiciary is taking to access-space and courtroom-usage issues. 
Standard Level Features and Finishes for U.S. Courts Facilities. (1996). Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Services Administration, Public Buildings Service This is a complementary document to the "U.S. Courts Design Guide."  It establishes the baseline, standard-level features and finishes for U.S. courts facilities that are funded by the General Service Administration.  It is intended to create a level of quality to determine costs.
Hardenbergh, Don, ed. Retrospective of Courthouse Design 1980-1991. (1992). Williamsburg, Va.: National Center for State Courts This classic publication features courthouses of many different styles that were built between 1980 and 1991.  Included in the retrospective are federal courts, appellate courts, general jurisdiction courts, limited-jurisdiction courts, and juvenile and family courts.
Hardenburg, Don, Robert Tobin and Chang-Ming Yeh. The Courthouse: A Planning and Design Guide for Court Facilities. (1991). 154 pages. NCSC et al. Includes an overview of the stages typically involved in the renovation of an existing court facility or the construction of a new one and descriptions of the tasks of planning, design, bidding, construction, and occupancy. Note: The 2nd edition of this volume (1998) is available through the NCSC Library (NA4471 .H37 1998).
County Courthouses. Courthouselover at

This is a collection of photos of hundreds of county and parish courthouses taken by a person who appreciates their history, art and design.

National Institute of Building Sciences. NIBS hosts the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) and provides an authoritative source of advice for both the private and public sector about the use of building science and technology. The WBDG serves as a gateway for building professionals to information on integrated, “whole building” design techniques and technologies.  It is especially useful for information pertaining to federal courts.
Utah Judicial System Master Plan for Capital Facilities. Salt Lake City: Utah Judicial Council The Utah Judicial Council has developed design guidelines and space standards to be used as a blueprint in the development of new court facilities and the renovation of existing ones.  This online resource contains operational and facility planning guidelines, judicial design guidelines, and space standards. 

Courthouse Financing

Eaton, Seth and William D. Locher. Give PPPs a Chance: Public-Private Partnerships May Be a Solution to California`s Infrastructure Funding Crisis. (January 2009). Los Angeles Lawyer This article illustrates California's renewed interest in public-private partnerships (PPPs). In many cases PPPs have been considered for transportation projects; however, "the California Legislature is now exploring ways to tap the resources of the private sector and develop innovative means to finance and deliver a variety of infrastructure improvements."
Knoebel, Dixie K. Responsibility for Trial Court Facilities Varies Across the Country. (Summer 2009). The Docket: Connecting North Dakota Courts This article provides a brief overview of the responsibility for funding trial court facilities.  In some states, courthouse facilities are locally funded, others are state funded, and in some states, facilities are funded from a combination of local and state resources. 
Court Facility Bonds: How Can the State Best Address Its Court Facility Deficiencies?. (2006). Sacramento: California Assembly Committee on Judiciary

This resource illustrates the efforts and concerns of using bonds to finance needed renovations in court facilities.  This background paper by the Assembly Judiciary Committee outlines several legislative proposals for using bonds and illustrates some of the difficulties faced when considering new and existing courthouse construction and financing.

Tobin, Robert W. A Court Manager`s Guide to Court Facility Financing. (October 1995). Williamsburg, Va.: National Center for State Courts This resource "is intended primarily for judges and court managers who are faced with the necessity of gathering resources to build or renovate court facilities."--Goals.  Illustrated within this resource are financing options and guidance on carrying out the responsibilities associated with court facility financing.

Courts Disability Access

Justice for All: Designing Accessible Courthouses. (November 2006). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Access Board

This resource contains a set of recommendations from the Courthouse Access Advisory Committee.  This group is composed of 35 members, including designers and architects, disability groups, attorneys, members of the judiciary, court administrators, and others who developed design solutions and recommendations for accessible courthouses.

ADAAG Manual: A Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. (1998). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board "The Access Board of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board has issued this guide to assist in the use of its Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for buildings and facilities. It explains some of the basic considerations for accessible design and clarifies specific ADAAG provisions"--Abstract.
Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities; State and Local Government; Final Rule. (January 1998). Federal Register, Part II, 36 CFR Part 1191 "The guidelines ensure that newly constructed and altered State and local government facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities in terms of architecture, design, and communication".
Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. (August 1984). Federal Register (FR 31528) This document presents uniform standards for the design, construction, and alteration of buildings so that physically handicapped persons will have access to them in accordance with the Architectural Barriers Act.   

Courts Sustainable Practices

Gale, Sarah Fister. Top 8 Ways to Go Green on the Cheap. (November 2008). There are many things your court or organization can do to go "green."  However, starting such an initiative can often be difficult.  The author discusses this issue and provide 8 tips to jump start your court's or business "green" efforts.
U.S. Green Building Council Benefits of Green Building. (2018). Sustainable Land Development Today Online

This article covers the cost- and environment-related benefits of sustainable "green" building. It makes the case for upfront investment in green infrastructure, noting that green building is profitable for businesses. Green retrofit projects generally pay for themselves in seven years, and LEED-certified buildings have saved billions of dollars in energy, water, and maintenance costs since 2015.

LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance. (September 2008). U.S. Green Building Council The LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a set of voluntary performance standards for the sustainable operation of buildings not undergoing major renovations.  It provides sustainability guidelines for building operations, periodic upgrades of building systems, minor space-use changes and building processes.  It also addresses maintenance programs, optimized use of energy and water, the purchase of environmentally preferred products and food, waste stream management and indoor environmental quality.  Upon meeting all the prerequisites and earning a set minimum number of points, your court facility can achieve LEED certification.
Loper, Rachel and Robert Loper. How Green is My Law Firm?. (November 2008). Law firms have often embraced a commitment to pro bono work as a social responsibility.  Now, many law firms are extending their social responsibility to creating a "greener" or more sustainable way of operation.  In this material, there are many suggestions on how your law firm or court can adopt a "greener" way of conducting business and sample implementation and procurement policies.
Morissette, Mary. GSA Building Modernization: Design Excellence and LEED Gold Certification. (Fall 2008). AAJ Journal The General Services Administration (GSA) has been working towards sustainable design for all new federal construction.  As part of the process, this article explains the efforts towards achieving a LEED-EB Gold certification for the Byron G. Rogers U.S. Courthouse in Denver, Colorado.
Green Justice: An Environmental Action Plan for the New York State Court System. (November 2008). New York State Unified Court System The title of this report Green Justice might suggest doing justice for the environment, and indeed this is an important goal. But for the New York State Judiciary, whose very purpose is to do justice, Green Justice also means doing justice in millions of cases annually in a more sustainable and environmentally sensitive way. The goal of this report is to do what no justice system in the United States has yet done: to begin implementing a  comprehensive environmental action plan covering the breadth of court operations and the Judiciary’s regulatory functions.
Naditz, Alan. Green IT 101: Technology Helps Businesses and Colleges Become Enviro-Friendly. (October 2008). Sustainability 1, No. 3 Being "tech savvy" now can also mean saving money and the environment.  As you plan to outfit your courthouse or use your existing court technology, this article provides suggestions on the efficient purchase, use, and disposal of your electronic equipment. 
Chicago Bar Association Task Force on Green Courts Initiative for the Circuit Court of Cook County: Final Report and Recommendations. (December 2008). Chicago Bar Association This report details the Task Force's examination on how the Cook County courts could go "green" through green initiatives and a "paperless" court system.  Recommendations encourage the expansion of e-filing and other electronic services in the Cook County courts and various sustainable office measures being undertaken in law offices and legal related public offices in Cook County.
McMillan, James E. Green Computing - Green Courthouses. (2008). This presentation from E-Courts 2008 provides suggestions on saving energy through the use of energy efficient electronics and smarter courthouse design and construction.
10 Ways to Go Green at Work. (2007). Sierra Club The Sierra Club has provided a list of 10 tips for going "green" at your office or courthouse.  Many of these same suggestions are included in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
Integrating Electronics Stewardship Into Your EMS. (August 2007). Federal Electronics Challenge The Federal Electronics Challenge (FEC) is a partnership program that encourages federal facilities and agencies to: purchase greener electronic products, reduce impacts of electronic products during use, and manage obsolete electronics in an environmentally safe way. As part of "green" courts, the selection and use of your computer equipment and courthouse technology can impact your environment.  This guide provides highlights on how good selection, use, and disposal of courthouse electronic equipment should be a part of your Environmental Management System (EMS).  
LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations. (October 2009). U.S. Green Building Council Buildings fundamentally impact people’s lives and the health of the planet. In the United States, buildings use one-third of our total energy, two-thirds of our electricity, one-eighth of our water, and transform land that provides valuable ecological resources. Since the LEED Green Building Rating System for New Construction (LEED-NC version 2.0) was first published in 1999, it has been helping professionals across the country to improve the quality of our buildings and their impact on the environment. Green design not only makes a positive impact on public health and the environment, it also reduces operating costs, enhances building and organizational marketability, potentially increases occupant productivity, and helps create a sustainable community. LEED fits into this market by providing rating systems that are voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven, based on accepted energy and environmental principles, and they strike a balance between established practices and emerging concepts. The LEED rating systems are developed by USGBC committees, in adherence with USGBC policies and procedures guiding the development and maintenance of rating systems. This latest version, LEED-NC version 2.2, provides guidelines for new construction and major renovation. A project checklist can be found here.
Green Courthouse Design Concepts. (1997). Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Services Administration, Public Buildings Service This site summarizes courthouse-building features and project-delivery concepts advocated by a panel of architecture experts.  The report addresses a range of environmental issues impacting the workplace, building construction, the community, and the larger ecosystem.
Sustainable Building Technical Manual. (1996). Public Technology Inc Planning a new courthouse?  If so, you may want to consult the Sustainable Building Technical Manual: Green Building Design, Construction, and Operations. It is one of the most comprehensive publications now available to help architects, developers, building owners, government officials, and others implement sustainable development practices. It contains more than 300 pages of practical, step-by-step advice on sustainable buildings written by some of the foremost experts in the field. Among the issues the book addresses are the economics of green building; pre-design strategies; passive solar design; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; electricity; plumbing; indoor air quality; acoustics; selection of building and landscaping materials; and housekeeping.
The ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge. American Bar Association. Section of Environment, Energy and Resources The ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have designed a program to encourage law offices to take simple, practical steps to become better environmental and energy stewards. Your law office (including law firms, government offices, citizens groups, courts, law schools and other law-related entities) can participate by implementing best practices for office paper management or by joining at least one of three EPA partnership (that is, voluntary) programs that encourage better office paper management, the use of renewable energy, and better energy management.  This web site describes the program and provides valuable information on energy savings.
Groen, Peter J. ``Green`` Information Technology (IT) Strategies & Practices. The author, a faculty member at Shepherd University, provides an overview of "green" technology with suggestions and examples of promoting energy efficiency and sustainability. The author believes that these suggestions will reduce energy consumption, enhance energy independence, reduce electronic waste, and generate positive public relations.  
Green Guidelines. Massachusetts Bar Association The Massachusetts Bar Association created Green Guidelines as a part of its 2009 "Eco-Challenge" to assist its members, assess current environmental practices, and commit to adopting more environmentally sustainable actions. Another section of the report covers landscape management and contains valuable suggestions for sustainable practices in maintaining your yard or the area around a court facility.
Green Office Guide. Sustainable Industries The full title of this resource is "Green Office Guide: How to Create a More Efficient Workplace, Buy Better Office Products and Measure Your Success" and it encourages businesses to take a “systems” approach to improving office operations.  The first focus is on opportunities businesses have to reduce the impact of their office through smarter commuting, paper use, business travel, and simple steps toward energy and water-efficiency. Then, users can find "green" purchasing recommendations for materials needed by their office.
Green Office Guide: A Guide to Greening Your Bottom Line Through a Resource-Efficient Office Environment . City of Portland: Office of Sustainable Development Simply stated, energy-efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation, and other resource-efficient practices are better for the environment and your bottom line. Considerable cost savings can be achieved by using resource-efficient products and practices. To that end, the City of Portland Oregon has created this guide which is both comprehensive and easy to use. Chapter 1 provides an overview of resource use in offices. Resource-saving options are spelled out in the seven sections of Chapter 2. These sections cover areas of a typical office operation: Lighting, Office Equipment, Paper Products, Heating and Cooling, Water, Cars and Parking, and Other, a final catch-all section.
Sustainable Design Program. General Services Administration The General Services Administration (GSA) is committed to incorporating principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency into all of its building projects. The result is an optimal balance of cost, environmental, societal and human benefits while meeting the mission and function of the intended facility. It is GSA's intent that sustainable design will be integrated as seamlessly as possible into the existing design and construction process. As a means of evaluating and measuring green building achievements, all GSA new construction projects and substantial renovations must be certified through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System of the U.S. Green Building Council. Examples of GSA LEED certified projects (which include federal courthouses) can be found here.
9 Ways to Make Your Home Greener. U.S. Green Building Council This publication from the Green Building Council illustrates ways in which you can save resources and go "green" at home.  Many of these same tips can be used in your courthouse workplace.
Ada County Courthouse and Administration Building. Ada County Operations Department

The Ada County Courthouse and Administration Building (Idaho) is an example of a facility that has achieved a LEED-EB Silver Certification in May 2005.  This brochure outlines some of the features of this project for existing building (EB) certification.

An Overview of LEED for Existing Buildings. U.S. Green Building Council This guide provide a short overview of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and discusses the advantages of "going green."  It provides an explanation of the rating system and certification strategy.

Courts Child Care Facilities

Child Care Centers Overview. United States General Services Administration This website provides details on GSA sponsored child care programs (state-by-state list of federal agencies, including federal courthouses, that provide child-care centers for employees).
Colorado House Bill 02-1101. The Family-Friendly Courts Act specifies that the state court administrator, in determining which judicial districts may receive grant monies for the provision of family-friendly court services, shall consider the extent to which a judicial district is responsible for specified aspects of providing child care and other family services for persons attending court proceedings.
Ngwa-Suh, Manka. Facility Facelifts: How Courthouses are Accommodating Children and Youth. (January 2006). Children Voice 15, no. 1 This article describes waiting rooms and various other measures to better accommodate the children and youth who pass through the court system each year, whether they are testifying, having decisions made about their futures in foster care, or waiting for adults who are conducting their own court business.
Pennsylvania Statute: Child Care Facilities. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Judicial and Judiciary Procedure (Title 42), Chapter 37, Section 3721 This statute provides that a county judicial center or courthouse may provide a child care facility for use by children whose parents or guardians are present at the county judicial center or courthouse for a court appearance or other matter related to any civil or criminal action where the person's presence has been requested or is necessary.