Described as playing a key role in the revitalization of the downtown area, the new Sumter County Judicial Center in Sumter, S.C., is a source of pride for those it serves. In a period of 21 months, construction crews transformed a parking lot into a civic landmark that will serve generations to come.
“The Sumter County Judicial Center is located in the heart of our downtown district,” said Sumter County clerk of court James C. Campbell. “We're diagonally behind the historic courthouse, which has served this community for approximately 110 years, and continues to do so. This location was important for several reasons. The community wanted to keep the judicial complex in the downtown area, and the county owned the property on which the building sits.”
Located at the corner of North Harvin and East Canal, the new facility is roughly 80,000 sq. ft. (7,432.2 sq m) and provides adequate storage for legal records, as required by state law. The judicial center houses the probate office, public defender's quarters, the solicitor's office, the family court division and the circuit division of the clerk of court's office. There's also a jury assembly room, an intake space for the Department of Social Services and a workroom office space for the county's IT department.
At a cost of $22.5 million, the project didn't happen overnight.
“This project has been discussed a good bit over the last several years, but the county didn't have the means to pay for it,” Campbell said.
“Our county council decided to provide a list of projects on a one cent sales tax initiative on the referendum several years ago.”
Sumter County voters, in the general elections of November 2008, approved the “Penny for Progress” project. Passage of the referendum authorized the Sumter County council to levy a temporary sales tax to fund 16 capital projects. The sales tax was implemented in May of 2009 and will be removed when the $75 million is collected, or in seven years, whichever occurs first.
“After the courtroom shooting in Atlanta several years ago, our Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court came up with a set of minimum security standards all courthouses must follow,” Campbell said. “That helped push this project up on the list of needs when the council was wrestling with the sales tax initiative and what projects to place on the ballot.”
As far as construction challenges Campbell said, “I think the biggest hurdle was the limited amount of space around the proposed site for the general contractor's equipment and supplies, because the county library and the chamber of commerce were still in operation as this structure was going up. The biggest challenge of all was parking. The site chosen to put this building was nothing but extra parking for several county buildings in the area. So, when the fencing went up to outline the construction site, parking really became an issue for all.”
The judicial center design and construction team included general contractor Thompson-Turner Construction, architect Stevens & Wilkinson of Columbia, South Carolina and Justice Planning Associates, which handled facility programming. Stevens & Wilkinson also served as engineer, responsible for civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, security and audio/visual matters.
According to Ashby Gressette, senior vice president and director of architecture of Stevens & Wilkinson, the firm's overall vision was to provide a technologically savvy facility for the county's judicial system, which would be incorporated into the fabric of historic downtown Sumter.
“Security is always a number-one priority in courthouse design, said Gressette. “The basic design concept recognizes and separates the primary users — public, restricted areas for judges and jury and the high-security holding areas for detainee circulation. Beyond the basic layout, security cameras and electronic locks assure restricted travel. Screening takes place at a checkpoint for both visitors and packages, with all actions monitored from two remote locations.
There are approximately 85 to 100 employees in the building at any given time. Four of the five courtrooms are located on the second and third floors. On each floor, courtrooms flank a security core that stacks over the holding area. The judges' chambers and jury deliberation rooms, also on the two floors, have limited access via a system of restricted corridors. The public access corridor to the courtrooms is located on the south side of the building.
Law enforcement is provided parking spaces adjacent to the rear of the building. All judges have a private entrance into a brick fenced parking lot, which leads straight to their elevator. The detention center vans pull into a sally port to load and unload the inmates who are being held into custody, waiting for their day in court.
“As on many projects, budgets are always tight and this one had challenges,” Gressette said. “Courthouses have to have more circulation spaces than most buildings, so normal net/gross efficiency is not in play. Also, due to appropriate finishes and security monitoring, a higher cost/square foot needs to be considered. Thus, more square footage at a higher budget causes issues.”
The building style is neo-traditional, featuring brick and cast stone veneer as the primary exterior materials. The entry and side porches combine glass curtain-wall with columns.
“A courthouse is a direct reflection of the community in which it is built, said Gressette. “Most people take pride in their courthouse, which should evoke permanence and the decorum and fairness of the justice system. A new courthouse also makes it easier to address the various needs of the tax-paying citizens of the county. Computer-assisted services offer visitor's quick answers. The court scheduling and other aspects of case management align with directives from the South Carolina Supreme Court.”
Although not aiming for LEED certification, the Judicial center incorporates most normal energy-efficient systems. For performance and noise considerations, air-cooled chillers located off the building were utilized to provide chilled water-cooling to the units that supply air to the building. In order to reduce the amount of outdoor air being provided to the building, demand control ventilation was used in spaces that have varying occupancy. This saves energy by minimizing the amount of outdoor air that has to be cooled. To save water, pint flush urinals were installed. The power consumption of the lighting system is 15 percent below the code limitations.
“Considering the initial vision and goals,” said Gressette, “I think it's important for the visitors and Sumter County citizens to be proud of their new courthouse, to be assured that the design-construction team was a good steward of tax-payer money, that the building is functionally sound and safe, and that the courthouse enjoys being a distinguished focal point for the community.”
SIFCO Mechanical, Inc., recognized as Sumter's oldest continuing business enterprise, was contracted in a pre-construction role to meet and work with the HVAC engineers from the design development through the construction drawing process. Allen Goff, owner of SIFCO Mechanical said communication at all times was key.
“The interior of a courthouse facility includes many wood and cabinetry features, which sometime limit the above ceiling space where the heating and cooling systems are located, said Goff. “Close coordination with all trades was necessary.
“The heating and cooling generation was designed to utilize air cooled chillers for cooling and gas fired hot water boilers for heating. These components of the system were located outdoors to allow for remote location to avoid any possible sound transmissions into the building. Air moving equipment was all located on the concrete roof slab, as was most large ductwork. Underground chilled and hot water piping was buried approximately five feet deep to enter into the building. Excavation and backfill was accomplished via track hoe. Roof mounted air handlers and ductwork were rigged via 60-ton hydraulic crane.”
All ductwork was shop fabricated and field installed by Prewitt Sheetmetal Works in Lugoff, S.C. The project included approximately 70,000 lbs. (31,751.5 kg) of galvanized metal, ranging from 26 to 18 gauge. The chilled and hot water piping was furnished and installed by SIFCO. The project included approximately 6,000 linear ft. (1828.8 m) of piping ranging from 6 in. (15.2 cm) to .75 in. (1.9 cm) black steel and copper.
“All workers had to have security background checks in order to gain access to the site,” said Goff . “The heating and cooling systems were designed with security grade air distribution grills in all secure areas, such as holding rooms and lawyer/client conference rooms.The Sumter County Courthouse project is of historical significance to our county, and we were extremely honored to have been a part of the overall project.”
“I believe the employees of every department have thoroughly enjoyed the new facility,” said Campbell. “The public is very impressed with the building when I give them tours. It was the talk of the town when construction was going on. To watch this building come from images on paper to concrete footers and steel beams being erected was a personal joy, knowing this is the largest project in our county's history.”