San Diego Prepares for Opening of New Courthouse

A dedication ceremony on June 5, 2017 heralded the new San Diego Central Courthouse, consolidating criminal trial, family, and civil courts into one 22-story tower.

Justice has been served a new home in San Diego.

A dedication ceremony on June 5, 2017, heralded the arrival of the San Diego Central Courthouse, a 704,000-square-foot, 71-courtroom facility that consolidates San Diego County’s criminal trial, family, and civil courts into one 22-story tower.

WSP USA provided the mechanical-electrical-plumbing (MEP) engineering for the $555 million building, as well as built ecology services and technology systems on behalf of the architect and client, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The lead lighting designer for the project was Lilian Fu, WSP San Francisco lighting group leader. The building is owned and operated by the Judicial Council of California (JCC).

“Some of the existing courts will remain within the Hall of Justice across the street – a bridge above the street connects the two buildings,” said Amanda Brownlee, project manager for WSP. “Jury assembly and security will live within the new courthouse building. Jurors can use the bridge to walk to the existing Hall of Justice.”

Design work on the new courthouse began in July 2011, and construction started in December 2013. Work on the bridge connecting to the Hall of Justice began in February 2015, and in May, final construction work on the entire structure was completed. In July, court will be in session for the new building.

The limestone-faced tower is located on a 1.4-acre city block – a brownfield site at the intersection of Union and C streets in downtown San Diego. The courthouse, which was built by Rudolph and Sletten, Inc., includes a park and will feature landscaping with sidewalks, planter boxes and trees.

The project replaces the County Courthouse, the Family Courthouse, and the Madge Bradley Courthouse in downtown San Diego, which were determined to be unsafe, overcrowded and inadequate for modern court operations.

©2017 WSP USA

The San Diego Central Courthouse consolidates criminal, family and civil courts into one building.

Clash Detection

Early in the project WSP’s built ecology team conducted daylighting studies of the tower’s main lobby to study the effects of solar heat gain within the building. “This study helped guide the energy modeling process to better understand the level and duration of functional daylight illumination throughout various times of the year,” Fu said.

Much of the success of the design process was due to collaboration among the client, the owner and the subconsultants.

“We performed regular clash detections to ensure that our systems were coordinated with architecture, structure and low-voltage systems,” Brownlee said. “Interaction with an educated and collaborative ownership team allowed us to obtain valuable input during design. Our client facilitated regular presentations to the owner to showcase critical design elements affecting their operations, which provided valuable feedback and insight into how our decisions impact the various stakeholders, such as judges, sheriffs and bailiffs, facilities maintenance personnel and people in custody.”

Those collaborations led to efficient solutions that maintained the level of security needed for a courthouse, including installation of courtroom lighting controls, power service selection options, space considerations for the emergency power system, chiller plant configuration options, smoke control systems, and diversity in heating-ventilation-air conditioning system design.

Brownlee said that building those relationships early on in the project was a critical step in making sure that the construction administration phase progressed smoothly. “Through lots of communication, the team created a positive environment to address issues and challenges that naturally arise as part of the construction process,” Brownlee added.

This project has been designed to qualify for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating from U.S. Green Building Council. WSP built ecology provided full LEED management, as well as other sustainability services that included energy efficiency, daylighting, thermal comfort, and measurement and verification that will soon begin.

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©2017 WSP

A bridge connects the new courthouse to the Hall of Justice across the street.

Court of Opinion

Working on a building where security was one of the key concerns created a challenging but rewarding work environment. “One of the more interesting things about this project was balancing the needs of security from the different stakeholders, along with other factors such as overall cost, energy efficiency and comfort.

“The owner challenged us to find ways to help reduce cost without compromising the functionality of the building systems,” Brownlee added. “The design team benefited from having a well-informed owner who could understand implications of design choices and technical issues.”

So far, the court of opinion appears to be ruling in their favor.

“The building ownership team has said that they have been pleased with our performance on the project,” Brownlee said. “The judges and members of the JCC involved in the design also seem to be pleased with how things have turned out, based on feedback received during the dedication ceremony.”

Brownlee, who initially served as lead electrical engineer before taking over as the MEP project manager during the design stage, said she felt supported by her entire team throughout the process.

She was grateful to have the opportunity to work on California’s largest courthouse construction project to date, part of an ongoing initiative to upgrade the state court facilities.

“Having worked on the project since 2010, I feel a great sense of pride seeing the project through to completion,” Brownlee said. “It has been an honor to work on such a high-profile project with a collaborative and supportive design and ownership team.”

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©2017 WSP USA

Designing the courthouse required balancing the needs of security, along with other factors such as overall cost, energy efficiency and comfort.

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