2001 Existing Justice Agencies Personnel
COURT SET DEFINITIONS AND SPACES – (internal working memo)
In response to your short request for an example of the “spaces typically included in a court set” the following became my long answer. After getting started I decided that an expanded memo on the subject may also be helpful to our committee and other interested participants and have thus expanded it beyond your original question. The attached table addresses your specific request for the typical spaces that should be included in a standard trial court set, but I thought the addition of the typical range of sizes and the resulting total net, departmental gross and building gross square footages would also be a useful reference. This narrative also notes some of the detail factors to be considered in estimating the needs for, planning and ultimately designing a new courthouse that may be of interest to some of our committee members and other participants.
Variables – The average range of space needed in a court set (courtroom plus all immediately adjacent spaces needed to conduct a proceeding) is primarily dictated by the size of the courtroom itself, which can vary substantially depending on the court’s jurisdiction, i.e. civil, criminal, juvenile, domestic, jury/non-jury, 6- versus 12-person jury and how many if any alternate jurors are to be seated, ADA access provisions (e.g. some put a wheelchair lift in the witness stand, most do not), high volume/ high turnover such as for initial appearance, traffic courts, etc., but most of all the amount of space that the government feels important to provide for waiting defendants, litigants, participants and public spectators. Also, most juvenile courtrooms are quite different as you know as the preference in many jurisdictions today is to have a less formal setting in addition to the fact that some states have juvenile jury trials and some do not.
The determination of the standard amount of spectator seating for the standard trial courtrooms tends to have the most impact on the amount of space needed. Also, it is a critical planning and design decision because if the spectator seating is not sized properly for certain high volume courtrooms, then a large number of litigants, defendants and participants waiting for their case to be called will be forced to wait in the halls or even outside unless by design there is a substantial waiting space provided elsewhere in the facility. Typically, courthouses that do not plan for this properly find that they have weekly spikes of overcrowding in the halls on days when those high volume dockets are scheduled, which affect civil, criminal, domestic and juvenile jurisdictions.
As an example, in KnoxvilleTennessee where our newest juvenile justice center remodeling/expansion was recently opened two large waiting rooms were included at the front of the court portion of the complex. Those two waiting rooms can each hold up to 150 persons, which is important since the juvenile court has such high volumes on certain court days added to the normal probation, programs and other casework events that involve parents and children coming to the complex every weekday. Interestingly this court’s jurisdiction has a population of about 390,000 yet the juvenile court operates very effectively with just one dedicated juvenile court judge because he also has three full-time juvenile referees. Their remodeled/expanded court has one 1,200 NSF formal courtroom and four 750 NSF hearing rooms.
High Volume Courtrooms – High volume courts have a functional/operational need for a large amount of seating of 100 or more since those courts such as traffic, local ordinance, and first appearance move a large amount of defendants in a matter of minutes per case. That is totally different than the policy desire to accommodate the public as spectators, whereas in this case the large number of seats is intended for those persons who actually have business with the court as participants in a case, not just as public spectators. There would normally only be a few of these very large courtrooms for any judicial jurisdiction, whereas most of the courtrooms would tend to be standardized to accommodate 50 or less spectators. Some jurisdictions want all trial courtrooms to be able to seat 50 to 100+ public spectators, whereas some counties do not feel compelled to do so and by design may limit spectator seating in their standard courtrooms from 15 or no more than 50 or so.
Standard Trial Courtrooms – Fortunately the number of high volume courtrooms needed per judicial jurisdiction is limited and the predominant number of courts needed can be standardized at a significantly smaller size. Usually today’s standard courtrooms can be sized somewhere around 1,400 net square feet for 6-person jury trial courtrooms and about 1,700 net square feet for 12-person jury trial courtrooms, again primarily due to the much larger number of spectator seats needed. High volume and ceremonial or large courtrooms will tend to exceed 2,000 net square feet.
Smaller Hearing Rooms – Finally, another important space planning factor for participants to be aware of is that a large number of cases can and will be handled in smaller hearing rooms of 500 to 1,000 net square feet instead of formal courtrooms. Fortunately, KalamazooCounty, like many other jurisdictions, has long seen the value of mediation and referees that use less formal proceedings as a cost-efficient and effective way of concluding much of the court’s business (primarily juvenile, domestic, and civil cases). The use of trained referees or mediators as subordinate officers of the court who handle a significant caseload as delegated by a supervising judge will make the KalamazooCounty courthouse of the future a much more efficient space user by design than the existing facilities. Some jurisdictions that we have worked in have been able to substantially limit the need for adding judgeships and thus formal courtrooms because the judiciary works to promote the use of mediation and non-formal proceedings whenever possible. Obviously this can be a big space saver.
In summary, court set space needs vary substantially depending on the specific type and jurisdiction of the court, but for a “needs study” level of detail as we are now developing for Kalamazoo County the attached table would be a safe exemplary average benchmark range to use based on our experience. It also supports the fact that the 8,000 NSF estimators that we applied for the estimate of future space need will be more than adequate rather than not enough. Remember that the 8,000 NSF estimator provides for not only the court set but also, other building use spaces needed (e.g. public lobbies, waiting areas, major corridors not in departmental gross factors, toilets, elevators, phone banks, janitors closets, mechanical/electrical rooms, public snack bar, storage, loading dock, security monitoring and screening, law library, jury assembly, grand jury room, prisoner vehicle sally port and central holding, etc.), excluding all the other agencies’ space needs that we estimated for separately since we had separate personnel projections. When the County decides to proceed with more detailed planning and design, the preliminary general size estimate will probably be able to be reduced rather than grow, because of the acceptance of the use of less formal hearings and mediation whereby some of the court sets will in fact become much smaller hearing and mediation sets.
In our experience, it is much better to be on the large size at this stage of preliminary estimation and general planning rather than setting a tight target that could become impossible once the more precise work of architectural programming and preliminary design studies begins, plus a specific site is selected. Factors that may be unknown today will become much more definitive once the County begins the architectural programming and design phase.
Typical Trial Court Set Components and Sizes*Component / Example Square Footages
- Trial courtroom (25 – 100+ spectator seats and a 6 -12 person jury w/ alternates seating)
- Sound vestibule – double doors
- Attorney/client & Victim/Witness private rooms
- Prisoner holding cell (up to 15 split in 2 sub-cells w/toilet, usually serves two courtrooms adjacent)
- Secure sally port for prisoner holding
- Secure interview room
- Camera/video/technology equipment storage
- Judge’s chamber
- Private toilet (HC accessible)
- Coat/robing closet
- Law clerk
- Court reporter
- File storage closet
- Supply closet/coffee-beverage station
- Conference room
- Staff/ visitor toilets (1M/1F ideal - HC accessible)
- Jury deliberation room (allow for 2 alternates)
- Jury toilets (1M/1F ideal – HC accessible)
- Jury coffee/beverage station
Subtotal net interior square feet/ 3,491 – 4,591
Subtotal departmental gross square feet (net + 35%) / 4,713 – 6,198
Total building gross square feet (dept. gross + 15%) / 5,420 – 7,128
* Excludes all other court building agencies, support staff and space needs, which when added to the court set typically equals about 12,000 building gross square feet needed per judgeship or per court as a rough estimator of the total building size needed. For KalamazooCounty an estimator of 6,000 GSF per court was used since all other agencies’ personnel was projected separately and estimated at an average of 280 GSF per person.
TOWER PINKSTER TITUS ASSOCIATES, INC. Carter Goble Associates, Inc.HOK C-1
 Also, see The Michigan Courthouse: A Planning and Design Guideline for Trial Court Facilities that we recently developed for the Michigan Supreme Court, which gives suggested size standards for all types of courthouse spaces.