Project Management

Some state, county, or even municipal jurisdictions have full-time staff capable of overseeing complex design and construction projects. Other jurisdictions hire private- or public-sector individuals to serve as project managers, or firms to perform as program managers. Regardless of the approach, jurisdictions need to designate project managers who can dedicate most of their time to project liaison and management functions.

The decision to improve judicial facilities, or even to study the need to improve facilities, is not made lightly. Jurisdictions typically spend years to arrive at this point. Frequently, however, piecemeal improvements are made without a larger strategy. Depending on the size and growth‑rate of the locality, periodic minor adjustments of the facility may be sufficient. But where significant improvements are necessary, they should be made within the context of a larger strategy.

One of the first steps most jurisdictions must face is the development of a consensus regarding facility shortfalls, improvement options, and funding strategies. Discussions regarding judicial facility improvement often commence with the judiciary or the local bar association. In some instances, a particular incident of violence may generate a wave of public concern, or the discovery of free asbestos or some other physical liability may provoke concerns among funding authorities. But security concerns, overcrowding, and operational liabilities are generally noticed first and most strongly by judges, judicial system staff, and other frequent courthouse users. Because funding authorities, such as county boards, councils, or commissions, have diverse demands for their limited financial resources, there may be initial reluctance to be sympathetic with the specific improvement concerns of judicial facility users. Even where shared concerns are immediately apparent, there is still competition for scarce resources.

A balancing of interests is required to achieve lasting consensus and to ensure coordinated action. That balancing and the resulting consensus are obtained through continual communication between owners and users. The difficulty of developing consensus is exacerbated by relationships between the owner and users, which frequently are compounded by individual personalities and different perceptions. Even among people of complete goodwill, an inherent tension exists between the owner's interests in overall public policy and the users' interests in promoting the specific operations of the justice system. A further complication is the tension that often exists between the court and the local government as a result of the court's status as a separate but equal branch of government.

Good communication is the key to achieving consensus. Once a planning or design project is under way, a new factor enters the owner-user equation: the outside professional contractor or project manager. In the typical planning, design, and construction process, both owners and users are important sources of information to the contractor, and equally important to the decision-making, consensus-building process. Owners provide criteria relating to timing, location, funding, and overall scope of projects, and make the final decisions. Users provide information on both general and specific facility operations, such as current and future operating practices, work flows, adjacency, and security requirements, and act as a vital sounding board throughout the facility planning process. Regardless of personality conflicts or owner/user tensions, the funding authorities want to get the most for their money, including appropriate size, acceptable costs, effective and efficient operations, and reasonable user satisfaction.

Good communication requires effort at several levels and the presence of a community review and advisory committee is critical to the long-term success of planning, design, and construction efforts. For the public officials involved, regular face-to-face meetings are important. For the outside contractors, individual meetings with both owners and users ensure the appropriate flow of information in both directions.