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Franklin County Commission Unveils New Courthouse Design

Franklin County courtrooms have long been due an overhaul. And county commissioners say the time is now. A design for a brand new courthouse was unveiled Wednesday. And the move-in date could be as early as 2010.

The new Franklin County Courthouse will have seven floors, 300,000 square feet and it's "green." County commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy said the environmentally-friendly building is long overdue, and that the current courthouse, which was built 34 years ago, is unsafe.

"The old building, which is currently not up to standard in terms of fire safety, it doesn't have a sprinkler, it's not up to standard because it has asbestos, it's not up to standard in terms of wiring and technology needs for the present time," Kilroy said.

The new building will be nearly all glass with high ceilings. Designers said this will allow natural light to penetrate the courtrooms, a feature they said should lower operating costs. David Brehm, an architect with DesignGroup, described how using the position of the sun will help light, heat and cool the building.

"The building is oriented to the east and west and runs basically along Mound Street in terms of its long exposure. That allows sunlight to be introduced into the south elevation in a way that creates opportunities for day lighting. Through the use of exterior sun screens we allow light into the building when we want it, which is the winter months when the sun is lower; and in the summer months when the sun is higher and less contributing we block it exterior sun screens," Brehm said.

Commissioners and designers said the glass building is symbolic of the country's transparent judicial system. Brehm said the building is also designed for sustainability.

"It's a building that lasts for 50 to 100 years. It lasts longer because it's gone through this rigor in the design and construction process," Brehm said.

Common Pleas Judge Daniel Hogan said courthouses are some of the most expensive buildings to construct. They must be built in a way to ensure safety and manage traffic flow between the public, members of the court and prisoners. Hogan compared Ohio University's new student center which cost $80 million to build to the new Franklin County Courthouse design.

"When you look at what the citizens of Franklin County are going to get $105 million, a secure, modern courthouse that will meet needs not just for today but well into the future; and then you go down and look at what OU did for $80 million, we are getting bang for the buck," Hogan said.

The new courthouse would be financed through the bond market. But right now that's up in the air. A new state law prohibits elected officials from awarding new contracts to big political campaign donors. Bricker and Eckler has been the county's bond council for 40 years. Because the firm has made donations to campaigns' of commissioners the contract to finance the courthouse has been put on hold. Common Pleas Judge John Bender will decide if the new law is retroactive and constitutional. If that's the case, the commission will have to pick a new bond council which will put the project on hold. The cost of the building is $105 million with land costing an additional $10 million. Ground breaking is set for July Third.