By Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — The Colorado Judicial Building, the former home of the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, was demolished this summer, just 33 years after it opened. Its successor, the under-construction Ralph L. Carr Justice Center, should be around much longer.
A host of dignitaries will be on hand for a construction kickoff ceremony on Monday at the future site of the Carr center, which is scheduled to open in early 2013 and, if all goes to plan, could still be in service a century from now.
“There’s been a concerted effort to sit down, to study the courts and their needs, and to think about that in terms of the next big block of time,” said Curt Fentress, the architect designing the Carr center. “We’re designing the building as a 100-year building. We’re looking at how we put it together for the long term, whereas the previous building had a lot of shortcuts, which led to a lot of issues with the building.”
Too cold, too small
The old Colorado courts building, which opened in 1977, was notoriously less-than-waterproof and was reportedly cold no matter the season. Not only was it uncomfortable, it was too small. The Court of Appeals more than doubled in size during its tenure in the building, with some staff having to work elsewhere. There was no room at all for the State Court Administrator’s office.
The Carr center will have room for more tenants while giving them plenty of room to grow, said Bill Mosher of Trammel Crow Co., project manager for the construction.
“The last building was strictly for the Supreme Court and appeals court,” Mosher said. The Carr center will also house the offices of the State Court Administrator, Attorney General, Public Defender and other state legal agencies.
The appearance of the new buildings is intended to convey the strength of the judicial branch as the equal of the legislative and executive branches, as represented by the Capitol, while also appearing open and accessible, Fentress said.
The four-story stone columns at the entrance show the time-tested strength of our legal system, while the glass atrium and dome show the transparency toward which the system strives.
Fentress Architects has designed a number of iconic structures around town, including Denver International Airport, Invesco Field at Mile High, and the Jefferson County Government Center (colloquially known as “the Taj Mahal”).
The Carr center is divided into two. A four-story building for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, law library and clerks’ office will be built facing 14th Ave. on the site of the former Supreme Court building. An interactive learning center designed to teach visitors about the U.S. legal system will be on the first floor of the building.
The Supreme Court courtroom will be on the fourth floor, with one Court of Appeals courtroom on each floor below. All courtrooms open onto a large atrium, with a glass wall facing the state Capitol Building.
The old courts building had such a nondescript entrance that left first-time visitors were often unsure where the entrance was. Once inside, visitors were faced with a bank of elevators. That won’t be the case with the new building, Fentress said.
“It has a celebrated entry, so you know where the entrance to the building is,” he said. “It’s also very transparent, it’s very clear. You go into the atrium space and you can see the entire building. It feels open and accessible.”
A 12-story office tower will stand next door, on the site of the recently demolished state museum, with its entrance on the corner of 13th Ave. and Broadway, across the street from the entrance of the Denver Public Library. The top two floors of the office building will be almost entirely occupied by the State Court Administrator’s office, with some room left for the Presiding Disciplinary Judge and extra space for a future tenant. Taking up of the sixth through 10th stories will be the Attorney General’s office, with some extra room on the sixth floor.
The AG’s office was originally going to be at the top of the office tower, but an extra floor was added to the top to make room for the courts administrator’s office, which was originally going to be in the same building as the Supreme Court.
The two primary buildings of the Carr center will be connected by a smaller, three-story linking building, which will have some offices.
Other confirmed tenants on the office side are: The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, Attorney Registration, Commissioner of Judicial Discipline, Board of Law Examiners/CLE, Judicial Performance Evaluation, the administrative and appellate divisions of the Office of the State Public Defender, Office of the Child’s Representative and Alternate Defense Counsel.
As of estimates in May, there were also 55,000 square feet of additional space that could be leased to other state offices when the building first opens, but available if one of the legal agencies needs to expand.
The appellate courts and administrator’s office are now renting temporary quarters in the Denver Post building.