Fort Worth

Tarrant County hopes for new Civil Courts Building by year’s end

The new Tarrant County Civil Courts Building is still very much a work in progress.

In most courtrooms, it takes a little imagination to visualize what the spaces will look like.

Most of the courtrooms, judges’ chambers and staff offices are unfinished shells.

But look closely and you can get a sense of what’s to come.

In some courtrooms, Jura stone, a limestone imported from Germany, is already on the walls and will serve as a backdrop for the judges’ benches. It’s also possible to see the outlines of jury boxes and some of the overhead lighting.

On the outside, brick is still being added, and three angels saved from the old building — which was demolished last year — will soon be placed on the exterior.

While the cold weather has wreaked havoc on the construction schedule, the $74.2 million project is set to be completed by Dec. 18, only 10 days late, said David Phillips, Tarrant County’s facilities management director.

“I think they’re going to have a hard time, but they’re going to try,” Phillips said. “I’ll know more in 90 days if they can get it done.”

New amenities

The cold weather has made it hard to work on the 231,934-square-foot, six-story building at 100 N. Calhoun St., east of the Tarrant County Courthouse and Tarrant County College Trinity River East Campus. It includes a secured underground parking garage.

Temperatures were too low to add features like brick, granite and windows.

“Many different building components have minimum temperature requirements … and the extended cold temperatures and icing conditions have posed challenges for both exterior and interior work,” said Randy J. Powell, senior vice president of W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Co., the construction manager.

If the work wraps up by the end of the year, the courts would move in during the first quarter of 2015, once furniture, information technology equipment and phones have been installed.

Voters approved funds for the building in a 2006 bond election. By the time the county was ready to move forward, the costs rose from $62.3 million to $74.2 million because of construction price increases and new technology.

The additional costs included placing the angels on the building. Saving and attaching three of the angels — and storing the fourth one — cost $501,911.

The building will have 12 civil district courtrooms, plus offices for jury services and the district clerk.

Tarrant County now has 10 civil courts, but it is adding two to plan for growth. One large courtroom — dubbed the high-volume courtroom — can hold 120 spectators while the others can hold 64.

“Our new courtrooms are designed to try the multiparty cases, as well as two-party cases, curing a deficiency in the current courtrooms,” said 48th District Court Judge David Evans, vice chairman of the Civil Courts Building advisory committee.

“Because of the new configuration, we should be able to make a more efficient use of trial time — thereby saving money and time for the jurors, parties and taxpayers.”

Another new wrinkle is providing a writing surface for jurors after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that judges must inform jurors that they have the right to take notes.

“We were in the planning phase when the rule was passed, and the design team helped reconfigure the jury box to allow the jurors to have a writing surface. This may be a first in Texas and will be an improvement over using a clipboard,” Evans said.

One floor is being left unfinished for the 2nd Court of Appeals to move from the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center. That center is scheduled to be renovated after the Civil Courts Building opens.

Parking problems solved

County officials expect the new building to increase parking demand by 100 to 200 spaces a day but now believe that they have enough spaces.

“Sundance Square Management came to our rescue and demolished a building two blocks away and converted the entire city block to 131 parking spaces,” Phillips said.

“The 131 spaces plus our garage and other Sundance parking facilities should provide adequate parking for our new building. We plan to enhance the free juror parking at LaGrave Field to attract more jurors and lessen the demand for juror parking around the building.”

The Civil Courts Building is the third of four facilities covered under the $433 million bond package. Also included were an addition to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, which opened in 2011; the new jail, which opened in 2012; and a new juvenile justice center, which has not been started.

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