Chief Judge Harold H. Greene watched one day this week as a young girl, handcuffed, was taken from one D.C. Superior Court building to another "by a great big U.S. marshal."
"That's a terrible sight," Greene said, recalling the sight of other, countless defendants he had seen paraded along public streets as they were escorted among the seven buildings that house the Superior Court.
Such familiar displays, which Greene feels are degrading to the defendants as well as a security risk, will come to a halt in late March when the Superior Court moves into a single, huge new $40 million stone-and-glass structure called the "District of Columbia Courthouse."
"When you look at the building from the outside, it's hard to get excited about it," said project manager Michael Heiserman, an architect with the city's general services department. But the building at 500 Indiana Ave. N.W. is testimony to two significant accomplishments, he explained.
Through a system of corridors and elevators, judges, defendants and the public will be segregated from one another as they move within the nine-story courthouse structure, Heiserman said.
"And believe me, structurally that cost a lot of money." Heiserman told a group of architects who toured the courthouse yesterday.
Money and how to use it is the root of the second achievement that comes with the new courthouse, he explained.
"To make a long story short, we're getting a lot of building for the money," Heiserman said. And on top of that, Heiserman told the architects, this building was completed within its budget - mandated by Congress - and is only four to five months behind its scheduled completion date.
"Forty-million-dollars and not a penny more," Heiserman recalled Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.) telling courthouse planners in 1974. Natcher was then chairman of the District subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
'At the time, Chief Judge Greece said during an interview yesterday, "we thought long and hard about whether we could construct a building that would be workable for that amount of money . . . and I think we did"
The new courthouse was designed by the St. Louis, Mo., architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. The same firm designed the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum, and the appearances of the two building are strikingly similar.
Both are steel frame structures, faced with stone and large, smoke-tinted windows. Like the huge open spaces in the museum, where aircraft hang suspended from the ceiling, the courthouse lobby is six stories high with a skylight.
Visitors can overlook the lobby from balconies on each floor. The area eventually will be decorated with greenery, project manager Heiserman said, but "we don't have the money yet to buy the plants."
There are 44 courtrooms on the second and third floors of the building, one for each Superior Court judge. These are "courtrooms in the round," as Heiserman called them, with a kind of amphitheater effect. The judge's bench is shaped like a half moon instead of in the traditional rectangular form. The courtrooms was decorated with red oak paneling with a beige tweed, sound absorbing fabri calming mood, which I would think is good for judicial quarters," said Washington architect Jack Webb as he toured the building.
The new building, four years in construction has been described by officials as one of the most secure courthouses in the country. Each courtroom is windowless, "for security purposes," Heiserman said. A "panic alarm" will be installed at each judge's bench so that the U.S. Marshal's office can be alerted immediately in case of disturbance. An inner shield of bullet proof glass is concealed behind the wood-paneled front of the judge's bench, Heiserman said.
But the special "secure courtroom" located on the courthouses' ground floor, is the most telling illustration of the need at times to provide courtroom personnel with maximum security.
Here, huge panels of bullet proof glass - concealed in the walls - can be drawn around the entire well of the courtroom (where the judge, clerks, lawyers and defandants sit shielding it from the spectator's gallery. "Male and female security room," where visitors will be searched by security officers, are at the entrance to the courtroom.
In the basement of the courthouse in the "main cellblock," a maze of cells that will hold prisoners scheduled to appear in court. The bars in the cells have been painted orange and the walls are white and bright yellow - "A little bit brighter than the average jail," Heiserman commented.
The cellblock has a capacity of 300, with separte facilities for male and female defendants, as well as juvenile offenders, he said.
And there will be a special, separate holding area for "white-collar . . . Watergate-type guys," Heiserman said.
Five deputy U.S. Marshals will man a large control room in the center of the cellblock, protected by a 2-inch thick shield of bullet-proof glass. Prisoners will be brought into the cellblock through an underground entrance.
Above the floors that house the cellblock and the Superior Court operations are offices of the D.C. Court of Appeals. CAPTION: Picture 1, The $40 million stone and glass District of Columbia Courthouse going up at 500 Indiana Avenue is supposed to be ready for occupancy in late March. Photos by Charles Del Vecchio - The Washington Post; Picture 2, A painter covers pipes in new courthouse. The view is north on 5th Street NW.; Picture 3, A courtroom takes form in new District of Columbia Courthouse; Picture 4, Mike Heiserman, the building's project manager, gives a tour of a courtroom for members of the AIA.; Picture 5, Cellblock area of new D.C. Courthouse contains individual cells for defendants., By Charles Del Veechio - The Washington Post