06 December 2005

New Appellate Court Building Mulled.

The state legislature is thinking seriously about tearing down the existing building that houses the state's Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and the Colorado History Museum, and replacing that building with a larger appellate court building, while relocating to Colorado History Museum to a site closer to Denver's Art Museum.

Apparently, the existing appellate court building, officially called the Colorado Judicial Building and built in 1977, is hard to maintain. The existing building is interesting. It was designed with security from rioters in mind. The court offices can be reached only by elevator or stairway and are all on the second or higher floors. The basement is the Supreme Court library with a huge glass skylight in the ceiling. It has secured underground parking with an entrance near the Colorado History Museum entrance. The overall design gives the appearance of judges sealed in a security bubble from the outside world, and its proximity to the state legislature gives the impression that the legislature is operating under the watchful eyes of the courts. All of the state's appellate court judges, statewide elected officials and state legislators have offices within a block of the court, and both the City and County of Denver and, once the new Denver Newspaper Agency building is errected, both of the state's biggest daily newspapers, also have offices in Civic Center (which ironically, is also one of the main gathering places for the city's homeless population).

The Colorado Judicial Building was not designed with car bombers in mind, and crude cement barriers now ring the building to ward off that threat.

If the state were flush with money, a major capital expenditure like a new appellate court building might be appropriate. But, at a time when operating funds for the judiciary have already been slashed to the bone resulting in massive judicial branch staff cuts, and the state has a great many urgent capital improvement needs as many school buidlings are in poor condition, roads and bridges need maintenance that has been long deferred, and Referendum C money has been promised for other purposes, this is not the right time and place for the project.

Instead, the ideal plan, in my mind, would be to return the Colorado Supreme Court to the state capital building, use the freed up space for more appellate court judges, make a much smaller expenditure for prettier barriers against car bombs in the existing building, and rent some space near the capital for legislative offices. The symbolism is much better, and the cost would be far lower.

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