Construction on the new $340 million federal courthouse in downtown is complete, but the process of moving legal documents, dozens of judges, and more than one hundred staff members into the shiny 10-story silver cube is just beginning.

The 633,000-square-foot courthouse, designed to look like it’s floating on air, is located at North Broadway and First Street just two blocks from the old Spring Street facility. Nevertheless, the short move requires pinpoint logistics to keep court services uninterrupted. The first step, which has already begun, is for the U.S. Marshals Service to move in and set up security operations.

Court spokesman Randall Schnack said that process will take all of September, at which point judges will begin moving into their new digs. In order to reduce the impact on court schedules, the physical move of files and judges’ chambers will be staggered, with judges’ accoutrements transported only on weekends. Some judges will also be moving from a third downtown location, the Roybal Federal Building. The expectation is that all judges will be settled into the new courthouse by the middle of November, but Kiry Gray, the court’s clerk, could not confirm which of the judges would be moving.

“It would have been nice to have everyone under one umbrella, but that’s not possible,” Gray said. “The majority of the district court judges will be moving, but we’re still working out who exactly.”

The move itself is being handled by Pomona-based Serna’s Relocation Systems. While the court has made a concerted effort over the past three to four years to implement a paperless document filing system, many judges still use hard copies. These case files will be moved over to the new courthouse but official case files will ultimately end up at Roybal after that site is renovated. The facility is slated to undergo a $19 million facelift beginning in November.

“The majority of the files are electronic,” Schnack said in an email. “Those official case files that are not electronic will remain in Spring Street until the Roybal reprograming project has been completed.”

Relocation Played Close to Robe

The new federal courthouse will begin to house judges in a month, but logistics are still being finalized. Because some of the documents that are being transferred are confidential or filed under seal, Clerk of the Court Kiry Gray said a certain level of secrecy had to be employed.

“We’re working up a best plan, but we don’t want to disclose how we’re actually moving everything to the public,” she said.

A spokesman for the court was able to confirm that approximately 2,900 boxes were being moved from the old Spring Street location and the Roybal Federal Building to the new building during a six-week move. Each judge will have two dedicated moving trucks. Serna’s Relocation Systems, the company handling the move, did not respond to requests for additional logistics details.

The move into the new courthouse will be the first stage of a longer, two-year process that will also transfer older hardcopy case files and archival records from Spring into a new storage location at Roybal.

– Henry Meier

Engineering feat

Getting the new courthouse built was no small undertaking. Judges in the Central District’s Western Division began advocating for the new courthouse in the mid-1990s when the old Spring courthouse was already more than 50 years old and concerns about the building’s security and technology features were growing.

At the time, the plan was to house all district court judges – lifetime-tenured judicial officers who oversee both criminal and civil federal trial court proceedings – under one roof.

That plan was ultimately scrapped due to budgetary concerns. While security issues have been addressed this time around, including new courthouse amenities such as a set of elevators exclusively for judges and critical court staff, installing up-to-date tech features proved challenging, according to Duane Allen, the project manager who oversaw construction for the federal General Services Administration.

“As you go into any project, you put in the most current technology, but by the time the building is complete some of it is already obsolete,” he said. “We try and build infrastructure that supports upgrades and enhancement.”

Construction efforts also proved challenging. The building, designed by architects at the downtown office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, has 35-foot cantilevers on all four sides supported by a roof truss at the top of the building.

Outside in

Instead of the normal construction workflow, which allows interiors to be built as construction rises skyward, workers had to complete the entire exterior mantle before tackling the courthouse’s innards, according to Bradley McDermott, the project lead for Clark Construction Group, the courthouse’s general contractor.

“We always knew the construction was going to be difficult because it was designed to have this floating cube effect,” he said.

The building required more than 41,500 cubic yards of concrete – in excess of 4,000 truckloads – poured around 9.5 million pounds of rebar. Some 4,300 tons of steel was used to reinforce the courthouse. The exterior is made almost entirely of tempered glass, which is angled to reduce surface temperatures by 50 percent, according to the building’s architects.

The new courthouse and its design features are expected to improve the speed at which justice is meted out in the Central District, which with more than 15,000 cases filed in fiscal year 2015 was one of the busiest federal systems in the nation. With judicial caseloads some 30 percent higher than the national average, some politicians, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have advocated for an additional 13 judgeships to reduce the strain on the court. Congress last approved permanent new district court judgeships in the Central District in 1992.

With the new courthouse’s 24 courtrooms most likely filled (including some that are expected to be shared by judges), that would mean any additional bench officers would likely find themselves at Roybal, which is already set to house the court’s magistrate judges and an unconfirmed number of district court judges who opt to stay or move there from Spring. Additional retrofits could be required at Roybal or the new courthouse if Congress approves any new judgeships.

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