Florence County Judicial Center Scheduled to Open Early 2018, Featuring Historic Courthouse Square

Stevens & Wilkinson reveals specifics of architecture, engineering and interior design planning and development Florence County, S.C., residents can expect as new judicial center project progresses toward completion.

Columbia, S.C. – August 7th, 2017 – Stevens & Wilkinson, a full-service architecture, engineering and interior design firm based in Atlanta and Columbia, S.C., announced in July the ongoing progress of the Florence County Judicial Center, which will serve as an anchor to the city’s broader redevelopment.

Now under construction, the $32 million, 120,000-square-foot building is being developed at North Irby Street, across from the existing County Administration Building.

The three-story structure, designed by a team of architects, engineers, interior designers, and project planners at Stevens & Wilkinson’s Columbia, S.C., office, will provide space for approximately 170 court employees and delineate the different functions of the Circuit Court, Family Court, Probate Court, Clerk of Court, and judicial support areas. Building security conceptualized by Stevens & Wilkinson will play a major part in the layout of the spaces.

“With our firm’s experience of courthouse planning, Stevens & Wilkinson was able to propose several alternate solutions during initial considerations for the site,” said Ashby Gressette, AIA, president of Stevens & Wilkinson, S.C. “Councilmen and their civic leaders recognized the value of having the new building at this site, serving as another major contributor to the city’s growing downtown redevelopment.”

In June 2015, Florence County retained Stevens & Wilkinson to develop construction documents for the new building. The firm serves as the architecture, engineering, and interior design firm of record for the county. Goforth Brown & Associates, based in Florence, S.C, was selected as associate architect, and BE&K Building Group, with an office in Greenville, S.C., was chosen for construction services. Construction began in December, and the building is scheduled to open in early 2018.

To evaluate the building, program, and operational needs of the courts at the onset, Stevens & Wilkinson, in association with Justice Planning Associates (JPA), conducted an extensive needs assessment and facility evaluation. JPA focused on judicial planning, case load analysis, and projected staff occupancy, while Stevens & Wilkinson created Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) drawings and engineering documents to assess existing building conditions and systems.

The joint assessment determined that the approximately 33,000 square feet of space available for expansion would not address long-term space needs, nor resolve significant operational and security issues, especially for the courts. Following this strategic evaluation, the team developed six design scenarios reflecting varying new court system designs, security features and circulation routes.

The chosen design for the Florence County Judicial Center features a “bar” layout where pairs of courtrooms are serviced by a high-security core. There will be four courtrooms per floor. Additional aspects of the layout revealed by Stevens & Wilkinson are a public zone, and a restricted zone serving the judges and jury, which will be separated. The courtroom is the only space where these groups will interact.

The exterior design is being planned as a contemporary interpretation of classicism. The traditional elements of the base, middle and top are to be expressed in cast stone and brick veneer; engaged columns will help modulate the elevations. Two-story spans of curtain wall supporting tall windows will provide an abundance of natural light in the lobby. The entry design showcases a prominent cylindrical element, acting as a hinge between the two primary sides and featuring a three-story interior volume.

Gressette and his design team conceptualized the L-shaped site plan to include a generous public entry plaza on the southeastern corner, and a landscaped courtyard reminiscent of a historic courthouse square to the south. Current planning involves special consideration being given to separating public traffic from a more restricted security zone, while a judges’ parking area will be more secured and separated from the general public.

“The landscaped entry plaza serves as a fore court to the monumental structure and provides a sequence of spaces from outside to lobby,” Gressette said. “Another popular idea offered by the design team was a broad linear green space; this was referred to as the ‘courthouse square.’ Not only did this reflect back to historic courthouse grounds, but it provided a pleasant connection between current downtown redevelopment and future growth.”

Stevens & Wilkinson also provided the civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, and audio-visual engineering services for the project. State-of-the-art monitoring equipment reinforces the fundamental security of the design. Control rooms and secondary controls, both part of the engineering plans, are being installed to give the sheriff a reliable mechanism for global building security.

Materials and finishes were specified to reflect the dignity of the courts, while remaining durable and cost-effective. “We presented a sophisticated palette of materials, yet those which are not too costly, thus supporting good stewardship,” Gressette said.

The existing 11-story, 168,000-square-foot Florence County Administrative and Judicial Complex was constructed in 1969 and originally housed the city and county administrative agencies, along with the courts, Sheriff’s Office, police, and jail facilities. Over time, the jail was relocated and city administrative offices were transferred out of the building. The original building likely will continue to be occupied by county administrative agencies, with some unassigned space available for lease.

Below is a brief description of each floor for the new Florence County Judicial Center: 

Floor 1: Visitors will enter the building through a rotunda in the southeastern corner. The queuing area before security is planned as a light-filled, three-story space. Functions on the first floor will represent the most public traffic- the jury assembly room, Clerk of Court and Probate Court. Because of a high water table, a basement was not feasible. Therefore, the sheriff’s sally port, holding cells, and work area were also incorporated on the first floor with secure access opposite the public entrance.

Floor 2: The second floor focuses on the Family Court system. According to Gressette, public access is being constructed along a well-lit, wide corridor running the length of the building, with planned seating alcoves. The Clerk of the Family Court will have office space, with easy access to the courtrooms via the restricted corridor. Pairs of courtrooms will share a high-security core connected to the sheriff’s holding area. The design plans will result with judges’ chambers having easy access to each courtroom.

Floor 3: The third floor will offer a similar sequence of spaces for visitors. “A monumental stair and the elevators will open to a generous lobby, overlooking the multi-story entry space. Access to the bar of courtrooms will be through a light-filled lobby. The restricted corridor provides access to judges’ chambers and jury rooms along the north wall,” Gressette said.

About Stevens & Wilkinson: Founded in 1919, Stevens & Wilkinson is a full-service architecture, engineering and interior design firm committed to providing clients with “Smart Design Solutions.” The firm’s combined design capabilities lead to projects executed with creative, innovative and holistic design solutions. Learn more: www.stevens-wilkinson.com.

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