Just four years after its long-awaited opening, the $18.1 million Freeman Justice Center in Key West is about to undergo a renovation to correct an apparent oversight in the design of its entrance.
The Monroe County Project Management Department is working with the 16th Judicial Circuit to expand the courthouse lobby to accommodate jurors, lawyers and visitors who must wait in line to pass through a metal protector, said Trial Court Administrator Holly Elomina. Those lines often extend into the parking lot, and can make for an uncomfortable wait in hot or rainy weather.
"We noticed immediately in 2008 when it opened that there was no overhang and nothing to keep people from the elements," Elomina said. "We have been talking with the county since that time about the lobby size not being sufficient to hold everyone."
Monroe County is putting finishing touches and reviewing architects' drawings on the project, said Monroe County Project Management Director Jerry Barnett. The final drawings should be approved in the coming weeks, he said.
The projected cost of the fix is $200,000.
"That's a rough estimate," Barnett said. "We haven't gone out to bid yet. Obviously, we hope it will be cheaper."
Two parking spaces in the parking garage on the ground floor will be removed to make space, Barnett said.
The county also will bring in a second metal detector from the old courthouse so two lines can be set up, said Elomina.
The courthouse originally was projected to cost $13.8 million, but overruns and security issues drove the final cost to $18.1 million.
Eight months after the new facility opened, changes were made to improve acoustics in the courtrooms. Court reporters had complained of difficulty in hearing attorneys, witnesses and others in the new courtrooms.
Another change under way is a new facility for drug court. The program will be moved from the old courthouse on Whitehead Street to the rear of the Freeman Justice Center on Thomas Street, Elomina said.
"We have this huge space being used for storage, and we were going to have to move drug court out of the old courthouse anyway as the county decides what to do with that space, so this made perfect sense to me," Elomina said.
The new drug court space will be funded by traffic citations, she said. Elomina didn't know how much the project will cost, as it has not yet been put out to bid. About $64,000 has thus far been spent on architectural designs and permitting fees, she said.