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County Leaders Give Go-Ahead for New Wake Courthouse

Posted July 23, 2007

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— Leaders on Monday agreed to move forward with plans for a new criminal justice center that they hope will help ease overcrowding in Wake County courtrooms.

Early estimates put the new courthouse, which would house all existing government offices, as well as the public defender's office, at about $215 million — $7 million less than the city's new convention center.

The current courthouse would continue to be used to try civil cases.

Construction on the new 440,000 square-foot building, which would sit on Salisbury Street across from the existing courthouse, could be completed sometime in 2012. Plans call for the county's judicial services building and parking deck to be demolished.

Architects will now begin working on the building's design.

But plans for the new building are not without some criticism of the hefty price tag. County Commissioners Chair Tony Gurley said higher-than-expected growth justifies the expense.

The county's population is expected to increase by 131 percent by 2030, according to estimates. Gurley said that means higher demand for the court system.

Others say that more courtrooms will not necessarily ease overcrowding unless there are also more judges to handle the caseload.

"You can get all the DAs you want, all the courtroom personnel you want," defense attorney Robert Henlsey said. "If you don't have judges to fill extra courtrooms, you're not going to cut down on the number."

In recent years, the courthouse, built in the late 1960s, has been riddled with problems stemming from overcrowding.

When completed in 1970, it had six courtrooms. But that number has since more than quadrupled as a result of the county's growing population. Eight more courtrooms could be added with a new building.

"It was adequate at that time but that was when you had 25 people in each courtroom — now you have 150 to 300 people in each courtroom, and no, it's not adequate," Hensley said.

Slower service time on the building's four elevators also stem from overcrowding. Courthouse employees have long complained about inefficiency and safety concerns. Put in place in 1970 and 1971 and updated in 1995, they run about 500 feet per minute – about half as fast as an elevator in a modern high-rise building.

Renovations to the building are also ongoing, and work is under way to bring the building's sprinkler system up to building code.

Last August, two floors of the courthouse were flooded after a pressurized pipe burst. Cleanup costs exceeded $50,000.

50 Comments

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  • ncwebguy Jul 24, 2007

    The parking deck will (hopefully) be rebuilt as part of the complex, but won't have Salisubry Street access.

    Wake County is building a parking deck at the corner of McDowell and Cabarrus to replace the parking in the existing deck at McDowell and Martin. They tore down Kings Barcade and a Wake County housing building on McDowell to make room for it. The two or three people here that actually go downtown have seen the fence up on that corner in recent weeks.

    The new deck will provide parking for the county during weekdays and the convention center at night and on weekends.

    I do think they need to build for more than current needs since the county has a track record of underestimating future growth. Better to pay now than do it all again in 10-15 years.

  • richard2 Jul 24, 2007

    Move the new court house to the edge of Raleigh with plenty of free parking.

  • hooptie1964 Jul 24, 2007

    The complaining that comes from the "regulars" on this board is incredible. If you truly hate everything that goes on in the city and county so much why don't you try actively doing something to change it instead of gritching all the time.

    Sheeeeesh.

  • tlh1005 Jul 23, 2007

    Great, soon after the mess from the convention center is completed they'll block of other areas of downtown to begin THIS construction!

  • reid47960 Jul 23, 2007

    And where are all of these people supposed to park??? It is already next to impossible to find anywhere to park when you have to go to the court house, the register of deeds the tax office and the sherrifs office. So let's tear down a parking deck to make room for all of these poeple. Once again the county "leaders" show us exaclty how inteligent they are...Let me guess they are goingto build yet another underground parking complex that is going to do nothing but suck up more of our tax money!

  • Ice Jul 23, 2007

    This issue can be looked at from several different angles. If you do not believe there is over-crowding in the courthouse, then you have not been there recently, or were on the wrong floor. Just because the actual courtrooms are not crammed with people does not mean the dockets are not crammed. If you would visit traffic court you probably would not get a seat unless you got there really early. There are ALWAYS more cases on the docket than could be heard by the judge. In Superior court, if you would attend the Monday morning calendar call, you would see they have 50+ individuals on the docket. If the average jury trial lasts 2 days, you have three courtrooms, how many cases could possibly be heard in a week. You do the math.
    Another consideration, if the courts were not so over-crowded, more cases were being heard, then the jail population would decrease. Either the inmate would be found not guilty and released, or guilty and sent to prison. Gone from jail, saving you $$$.

  • Ice Jul 23, 2007

    It is Judge Donald Stephens (not Stephenson)

  • nowayebby Jul 23, 2007

    or 'our mechanic'

  • thinkb4youspeak Jul 23, 2007

    Just an FYI, Judge Stephenson is a Superior Court Judge, not District Court. I would think that one of your good friends would not want you getting his position wrong.

  • nowayebby Jul 23, 2007

    Yeah, I thought that was who you were talking about, I'm not 1 to let someone drop names.

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