TALLAHASSEE — Officials opened the doors to the state's fanciest new courthouse Monday, but none of the judges, legislators or state officials responsible for the new 1st District Court of Appeal were on hand to talk about it.
The tour for news reporters included the mahogany-trimmed offices, kitchens and bathrooms in judicial suites and the two domed courtrooms of the opulent building critics call the "Taj Mahal." Some areas were off limits for "security reasons."
Guides for the event were Linda McDonald, communications director for the Department of Management Services, which supervised construction and serves as the state's landlord; and Brad Will, senior project manager for Peter G. Brown Construction Co., the company hired to manage construction on the building. Final touches are being applied to the building, which is on state-owned land at Southwood, about 6 miles east of the Capitol.
Patterned after the Hall of Justice built by the Michigan Supreme Court, the first- and third-floor rotundas looked much like the Michigan building, with black and white patterned terrazzo floors and bronze seals embedded in the middle.
There is lots of etched glass and granite countertops, and a virtual courtroom, designed to allow participants to appear from remote areas, features two 60-inch monitors in the back of the dais and two 48-inch monitors on tilt mounts on the side walls. The 60-inch flat screens planned for each judge's chambers were eliminated after the publicity about the extravagances at a time the court system is dealing with tight budgets and layoffs. Several judges lobbied state lawmakers and got authorization for a $33.5 million bond issue included in a transportation bill passed on the last day of the 2007 legislative session.
The court will pay the state $1.6 million a year in rent, far short of the $2.4 million a year the state will pay to retire the bonds, a cost difference criticized by auditors.
Built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria, the courthouse is expected to earn "gold" certification for features that will conserve electricity and water, Will said.
Moving day is tentatively scheduled for around Dec. 20. Still to be decided is whether the state Supreme Court will force the district court to share part of the building with employees of the Office of the State Court Administrator, who currently operate out of rented quarters.
No decision can be made until the Legislature meets in the spring, because lawmakers would have to authorize the funding to reconfigure the building.