Designing for Flexibility

Courthouse needs change over time. A good forecasting process and a thorough analysis of potential operating policies can help jurisdictions design long­-term facilities. But some variable growth in caseload or case types is certain to occur during a fifteen- or twenty-year period. Not all policy or procedural changes can be anticipated, no matter how thorough and insightful the analysis. Several measures can prolong the operational life of the facility.

Standardize Floor-to-Floor Heights and Bay Sizes

Floor-to-floor heights and bay sizes can be standardized throughout the building to permit the conversion of any non-courtroom space to courtrooms.

Provide for Internal Expansion

Functions can be located to provide for internal expansion. Historically, older court facilities were designed to contain a variety of general government and court-related functions. As the court­houses were used over the course of decades, internal court functions expanded first through the removal of general governmental functions and later through the removal of ancillary court-related functions, such as probation or public defender services.

General governmental and court-related offices should be strategically located within a new or renovated courthouse with an eye toward their eventual removal after the fifteen-to-twenty-year forecast period. One strategy is to locate low-to-medium volume office functions on the middle floors of a courthouse. As those offices outgrow their space, they can be moved to adjacent or proximate buildings, thus allowing integral court functions to expand up­ ward from the high-volume public floors and downward from the low-volume trial courtroom floors. Stacking strategies such as this can greatly pro­ long the functional life of a consolidated court facility. Related to the phased removal of non-court offices is the construction of extra space that is temporarily shelled in until it is needed. This is typically done with future courtrooms, which may be used for storage areas or even for other offices until an additional courtroom is required.

Minimize Courtroom Specialization

In general, courtrooms should accommodate generalized types of litigation rather than specialized types of litigation. While some specialization of courtroom design among litigation types is often appropriate, the degree of difference in courtroom sizes and capabilities requires very careful consideration. Providing courtrooms with jury capabilities and prisoner security arrangements increases their flexibility in meeting courtroom requirements based on scheduling, as well as future courtroom requirements based on unanticipated growth or changes in operational practices.

Over fifteen to twenty years, a jurisdiction may be fairly successful in predicting its total number of judges, but much less so in correctly predicting the growth of individual calendars, such as criminal, civil, probate, family, and juvenile. Courtrooms that are sized to accommodate a broad range of litigation types provide extra insurance for long-term usefulness regardless of unexpected growth or jurisdictional changes.Predictability in courtroom design makes the facility more accessible for the public and may also help save costs. (See Specialized Court­rooms)

Assess Ratios

Jurisdictions may wish to assess carefully the ratio of (1) courtrooms to judges, (2) jury deliberations rooms to courtrooms, and (3) holding areas to courtrooms. Some jurisdictions with highly centralized and carefully controlled calendaring and scheduling can operate with more judges than court­ rooms, but most jurisdictions may face potential operating drawbacks in such a situation. Careful consideration of actual operating practices should precede any reduction in the usual one-to-one ratio.

Jurisdictions operating very large or very small facilities may choose to assess the appropriate ratio of courtrooms to jury deliberation rooms. Depending on actual operating practices, and on the total number of courtrooms per floor, some reduction in the typical one-to-one ratio may be possible in large facilities. Alternatively, in very small facilities having more than one jury deliberation room per courtroom may increase flexibility. (For further discussion, see Jury Deliberation Rooms to Courtrooms.)

Limiting holding capabilities (especially custody elevators and court-floor holding cells) to only those portions of the courthouse intended for criminal court can impose real constraints on flexibility. In view of the difficulty of accurately predicting differentiated growth of case types, jurisdictions may be wise to maximize future operating flexibility with the use of appropriately located custody elevators throughout the facility. Such a design would permit holding capabilities in close proximity to all, or nearly all, courtrooms. Given flexible courtroom design as well, the facility could respond to a broad range of growth, jurisdiction, or policy changes.