New courthouse talks move forward
Now a task force says the best solution is constructing a new, 17-story tower with a $328 million price tag. County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposal Tuesday.
This will be the county's second attempt in recent years at getting a new courthouse. In 2006, Broward leaders proposed a more expensive plan that required a voter-approved, $450 million bond issue. Voters rejected that idea.
As for the new proposal, no floor-by-floor plans for the building exist.
County consultants say they can't craft detailed plans without the commission's OK.
But they have identified a general layout, which elements they cut from the 2006 plan, and a long list of problems that need fixing.
At issue, they say, is an outdated design with a heavy dose of wear and tear in the building, which at its core is about 55 years old.
''It has outlived its life. It has outlived its culture,'' said Mario Cartaya of Cartaya and Associates Architects, one of several consultants hired by the county to examine the courthouse. ``And so, because of that, you've got severe issues.''
Cartaya highlighted these problems:
• A layout that mixes judges, employees, visitors and prisoners in the same space, even sometimes putting judges and inmates in the same elevator at the same time.
''This is the one that is a ticking time bomb,'' Cartaya said.
• Water, sewer and electrical systems from the 1950s that are failing or close to it.
Cartaya also predicted needing a new air conditioning system in the next year or two.
• Weakened connections between the windows and the walls that could fail in another hurricane, especially a Category 2 or higher.
Some fixes require tearing down entire walls, which would mean renting separate space so the courthouse could continue while undergoing renovations. Other problems, like the shared elevators, can't be changed, leading to the question:
Which is cheaper, building a new courthouse or fixing the old?
Consultants say a new one probably would be cheaper.
That assessment probably is correct, said University of Florida professor Michael Cook, who teaches the cost of construction and estimating at the M.E. Rinker Sr. School of Building Construction.
Cook hasn't analyzed the Broward courthouse, but said its situation sounds similar to other public buildings he has studied. Since they are built to last a long time, when they finally break down, sometimes the pipes and mechanics inside the building aren't made any more, making the fixes -- and bringing the building up to code -- expensive.
''It's like an automobile. How much are you going to invest in an auto when you can get something brand new that will last a lot longer for a little more, maybe even less?'' Cook said.
There are exceptions to that idea, such as the 81-year-old Miami-Dade County Courthouse. That building benefits from several factors, said architect Don Dwore, who is in charge of the Broward project for another consultant, AECOM Design.
It's made of stronger materials -- masonry -- as opposed to Broward's metal and glass, which was prevalent in the 1950s. Also, Miami-Dade took good care of the building, which earned designation on the National Register of Historic Places, further requiring good maintenance, Dwore said.
''It's on the historic register. That elevates any building to another status,'' Dwore said.
Last year, two plumbing leaks forced the Broward courthouse to close, including a burst pipe in December that soaked court files, knocked out phone service and delayed trials. Earlier this year, a handful of courthouse employees sued the county, alleging the building made them sick.
Those breakdowns lead to a renewed push for a replacement building, resulting in the latest plan: the 18-story building to be built where the judicial garage sits.
The bottom floor would be a garage.
Courtrooms, clerk offices and state attorney offices also would be housed in the building, the task force report says.
The courthouse's newer wings -- east and north -- were built about 15 years ago and would remain as is. They include criminal courtrooms and most of the public defender's office.
When the new tower is done, the old west and central area would be torn down and landscaped, according to the report. Those areas include what is now the main lobby, civil and family court, clerk of the court, courtroom administration and most of the state attorney's office.
But to bring down costs and avoid another bond issue proposal, some features included in the 2006 plan were cut, including:
• Plans to buy land near the courthouse to add 3,000 parking spaces. The new proposal adds about 600 spots. The county will try to add more parking around the courthouse, but as a separate project, said Pete Corwin, assistant to the county administrator;
• Moving the main public defender's office into the new building. It will stay in the east wing;
• A handful of extra courtrooms;
• Upgrades to satellite courthouses;
• Larger work spaces. In total, the new courthouse will be more than 200,000 square feet smaller than the 2006 courthouse proposal.
But the new plan will have a bit of room for growth. The tower would include an empty floor for adding offices or courtrooms as needed, Dwore said.
Chances are good that floor would be put to use pretty quickly, Dwore said, adding, ``I've never seen a courthouse shrink.''
The May 5th Courthouse Task Force Update on Tuesday will begin in Room 430 at 12:00 PM or immediately following the morning County Commission meeting.
NOTE: This is NOT the same room as the County Commission Chambers, Room 422, so leave early if you want to get a good seat.
The County's one-sided Task Force interim report is at: http://www.broward.org/courthousetaskforce/pdf/interim_report.pdf
It concludes thusly: "The Task Force plans to meet again in June to discuss several open issues related to future phases. These include the long term phasing plan; and an updated estimate of shell space; potential for Stimulus funds; use of a County owned building on Federal Highway; and the potential sale of the land on the New River."
I definitely plan on attending this and really letting the criticism flow.
Maybe, just maybe, I'll even get some answers to the reasonable questions I've posed here in the past, including the curious composition of the group, ALL of whom have a self-evident tie-in to Broward's legal community or to County or local government.
Talk about a complete lack of diversity!
Yet there's not a single architect, urban planner, engineer or high-technology expert on the Task Force?
And the chair of the Task Force is one of the County Commissioners, Ilene Lieberman?
Now that's Broward County in a nut-shell!
Is it really that hard to get honest, open-minded people in this county to be on a panel?
No, but that presupposes that was, in fact, what they wanted; it wasn't.
They wanted a booster club, not a fact-finding group.