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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jun. 26, 200212:00 PM EST

New courthouse designs unveiled

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by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

Now, the hard part.

Various Better Jacksonville Plan officials, County and Circuit Court judges and a few interested residents gathered Tuesday at the University of North Florida’s University Center to hear and see what four architectural firms have come up with for the new $211 million county courthouse.

After six hours of power point presentations complete with scale models, slick bound guides and seemingly endless visual aids, the job of determining which firm will get the job now belongs to the City’s Professional Services Evaluation Committee.

PSEC will spend today wading through the pros and cons of each design before submitting a winner to Mayor John Delaney, who will make the formal announcement Thursday at 1:30 p.m. The four firms that made it to the finals are: New York-based Cannon Design, Jacksonville’s KBJ Architects, Jacksonville-based Rink Reynolds Diamond Fisher Wilson and Miami-based Spillis, Candelas & Partners.

If a straw poll is any indication, PSEC has the best of dilemmas on its hands.

“Somebody said they could throw a dart at one of them and be OK,” said Chief Judge Don Moran, referring to the fact that all four designs are more than acceptable and will provide Jacksonville with a signature legal building for the rest of the century. “I understand from people who have seen the designs that it is going to be a very tough decision. All of them are absolutely outstanding.”

Moran said he didn’t favor one design over any of the others. To him, and the other judges and courthouse personnel on hand, the building’s look is secondary to its function.

“I have an open mind about it,” said Moran. “These are highly-skilled architects, some of the best in the country.”

All four firms submitted similar designs with many subtle differences. Cannon and Spillis both designed seven-story facilities while KBJ and Rink Reynolds proposed eight-story buildings. All four include a functioning basement in their designs.

Audrey Moran, Delaney’s chief of staff, said all four firms mimicked the conservative and traditional look of the new downtown library.

“When you first look at it, it appears the architects went with a classical design,” she said. “All of them also included lots of green space into the design features for a campus-like setting, which is what the mayor was looking for. We are very excited and I think we can’t go wrong no matter who we choose, which is wonderful.”

Two of the biggest challenges the firms faced was how to include enough parking without creating a parking lot feel, and how to incorporate the old federal courthouse into the design. To Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin, the designs both met and exceeded his office’s expectations. There will be ample parking — potentially 3,400 spaces — and all four designs allowed for the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office to occupy the old federal courthouse.

“Whatever they come up with is appropriate as long as we have proper access to the courtrooms and each other’s offices,” said Plotkin, adding that often during depositions witnesses can get shuttled from office to office, a feat not easily done right now considering the State Attorney’s Office is scattered around the city. “Right now we are on nine floors in five different buildings in downtown Jacksonville. Two weeks ago, we moved 20 people out of the courthouse and into the Annex.

“We don’t have a room to put all our staff in and that’s important for our young lawyers to interact with our senior lawyers. Right now, there is little to no interaction.”

Circuit Court Judge A.C. Soud was as impressed as the rest. All four designs seem to abide by the five basic guidelines set forth by the courthouse advisory committee: functional, flexible, secure, dignified and economical. To Soud, one element rises above the others on his priority list.

“Functionality is really the most critical element in a public/private courthouse,” said Soud.

All four designs will be on display for public viewing at City Hall today and Thursday in the Renaissance Room.

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