The Trial Court's new Strategic Master Plan includes an initiative to develop a Capital Plan for the improvement of court facilities. A new Capital Plan is key to addressing the needs of over 100 courthouses across the Commonwealth. Many of these facilities are aging, in disrepair, and need to be replaced. Capital funding for court construction and renovation has decreased in recent years. The current limited funding level makes developing a Capital Plan vital to determining where the Courts' needs are greatest.
This is not the first time the Trial Court has established a framework for guiding capital planning decisions. A statewide Master Plan for Court Facilities was released in 1998. A comprehensive survey of courthouse building conditions was performed by an independent architectural/engineering consultant under the direction of the Division of Capital Asset Management. The information obtained through the survey and subsequent updating was used to identify relative needs for capital improvements and repairs for courthouses across the Commonwealth, regardless of ownership.
Since the Courthouse Improvement Act of 1988, there have been numerous capital appropriations targeted to improving the condition of the Commonwealth’s courthouses. These appropriations responded to both short and long-term planning goals ranging from emergency repairs at community-located District Courts, design and construction of regional justice centers housing multiple court departments serving several communities, and access to justice at courthouses statewide.
To continue accomplishing these objectives the new Capital Plan will:
- Establish and apply objective criteria for ranking facilities according to relative need based on building conditions, caseload, overcrowding and other factors;
- Create a methodology for setting priorities for planning court capital improvements, including new construction, renovations and repairs;
- Provide for periodic review of project priorities and allow for adjustments based on new information, changed circumstances and funding availability;
- Identify the design principles that will guide the courthouse capital improvements;
- Identify operational and organizational changes that could ease overcrowding, instead of or in addition to capital improvement.
The new Capital Plan will be completed in early 2015. Court Capital Projects and the Division of Capital Asset Management are in the process of hiring a capital planning consultant. An early objective will be to complete a new courthouse survey, assessing building conditions, staffing projections, caseload and populations trends. Other criteria will account for factors such as regional significance, historical value, and potential to replace private leases. When ranking facility needs, priority will go to courthouses with severe problems involving life safety, security and accessibility. These issues will be addressed once funding is secured and the first phase of the Capital Plan is implemented.