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New era: Mercer County Criminal Courthouse opens for business
MEDIA CONTACT: Julie Willmot
TRENTON, N.J. - Only columns of celebratory gold and black balloons flanking the first-floor information desk indicated that Monday was the first day of operation for the new Mercer County Criminal Court building, as it was business as usual for the courts. But County and Court officials paused late in the day to mark the long-awaited opening of the stately building at South Warren and Market streets.
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, joined by The Honorable Mary Jacobson, Mercer County Assignment Judge, thanked well-wishers and posed for a few photos in the Special Proceedings Courtroom, officially marking the end to the largest public project in County history.
The multi-year project represented a critical source of jobs for trade and labor organizations and provides a modern, safe working environment for the judiciary and hundreds of County employees. The completion is a victory by Hughes after decades of inaction and delays by predecessors.
“This is a real success story of the partnership between County government and our many partners, including our honorable judiciary,” Hughes said in the majestic courtroom.
The new structure was erected behind the existing Criminal Courthouse, a classical Beaux Arts building constructed in 1903 which faces South Broad Street. The new, 142,000-square-foot building meets environmentally friendly LEED standards at the silver level. It cost $80 million and included demolition of a parking garage and preparation of the site for construction.
The advancement of the project came after decades of stagnancy by previous Mercer County administrations that were unwilling or unable to design and finance a plan for a new courthouse, a sorely needed and heavily used public facility.
The condition of the current criminal courthouse became increasingly problematic, the victim of years of patchwork fixes and short-term remedies, until Hughes initiated discussions about a new courthouse shortly after being elected County Executive in 2003. What followed were several years of internal deliberations to find a permanent solution, which included the possibility of completely rehabilitating and renovating the existing courthouse, and several iterations of designs before a conclusion was reached. Ultimately, the Hughes administration and the Mercer County Improvement Authority, in partnership with The Honorable Linda Feinberg, former Assignment Judge for Mercer Vicinage Superior Court, decided that a new building was the only viable option.
Aside from bringing the County’s judiciary functions into the 21st Century, the new structure created 750 trade and construction jobs during a time when unemployment was hitting the region hard. The new Courthouse also represents one of the first in a string of public and private redevelopment projects happening in the City of Trenton.
Approximately 300 County and State employees will work in the building in agencies including, but not limited to: judiciary; Drug Court; Probation; Case Management; Records Storage; and the Sheriff’s Office.
The building stands four stories tall and its exterior features stone, masonry, and glass and metal panels. The basement level houses the Sheriff’s Office and detainees who are scheduled for court appearances. The above-ground floors house nine courtrooms, each with jury boxes and detainee holding areas and the associated judges’ chambers and administrative offices. The courthouse utilizes state-of-the-art security and safety measures; most prominently, three separate pathways through the building — one for the public, one for judges and their staff, and a third for prisoners and law enforcement. Detainees are transported to courtrooms via two prisoner-only elevator shafts.
To meet the United States Green Building Council’s LEED environmental standards, the building has efficient mechanical systems, water-saving plumbing, and reliance on large windows and skylights to maximize use of natural light. The roof makes use of solar reflectance materials to lessen air conditioning use, rainwater is collected for use in flushing toilets, and construction materials were selected from local sources to cut down on long, gas-guzzling deliveries.
An adjoining parking area of 88 parking spots is reserved for judges and judicial staff.
The architect for the project was Vitetta, a firm based in Philadelphia, while Earnest Bock & Sons, also of Philadelphia, is the contractor. Joseph Jingoli & Son, Inc. of Lawrenceville served as the construction manager.