Justice Building project underway on the Capitol grounds


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An expansion of the Justice Building on the grounds of the State Capitol will provide much-needed office space and also serve as an educational venue for visitors young and old.

Construction has begun on the Justice Building expansion project, which will renovate approximately 3,000 square feet of existing space and add approximately 25,000 square feet of new space.

The $ 12.8 million project will expand the north and south wings of the existing building that houses the Arkansas Supreme Court Library, the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Courts Administration Office. The expanded areas will line up next to the Supreme Court Rotunda building. Designers, AMR Architects of Little Rock and Brackett-Krennerich and Associates of Jonesboro, will be responsible for creating the facade for the expansion.

The project will add 10,000 square feet of meeting space and 7,500 square feet that will serve as the Capitol Grounds visitor and civic education center.

Chief Justice Dan Kemp said the project was approved by the Arkansas Supreme Court several years ago as part of the Justice Building master plan.

“However, it was only in the last year or so that it has become possible to relaunch the project,” he said in an email on Thursday. “During the summer of 2019, we began working with the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and the Division of Building Authority to review our existing obligations. We found that by refinancing the existing bonds, we could save over $ 400,000 in interest costs. At this point, we concluded that the judiciary was in a much better financial position to complete this project than in 2016. “

Kemp said the justice building needed a new roof, which will cost $ 1.2 million. He said the building also needed a new boiler, which will cost more than $ 1 million.

“These expenses were built into this project, which prevented us from using General Assembly general revenue funds for special credit or the governor’s rainy day funds to pay for these improvements,” Kemp said. . “The whole of this project is financed by the Fund for the administration of justice, which comes from legal fees and administrative fees.

Kemp said it’s important to recognize that no taxpayer money is being used to pay for the expansion project.

“Payment for the obligations will come from the AOJ Fund through court fees and application fees rather than general revenue,” he said. “In addition, deferring the expense of the new roof and the new boiler saves general usage revenue and allows payment for these improvements from the bond issuance.”

Alex Johnston, spokesperson for the State Department for Transformation and Shared Services, said the construction team started last month and hopes the project will be completed by the fall of next year. .

The project will allow the Courts Administrative Office to have all its staff under one roof, instead of being housed in separate buildings across the city.

“This will eliminate rental expenses of over $ 200,000 per year,” Kemp said.

Kemp said the reception and civic education center “will benefit not only the judicial branch of government, but the executive and legislative branches as well.”

Kemp said the additional meeting space will allow judges and court staff to meet in the building instead of having to rent a conference room at an area hotel to host judicial training and education.

The civic education center will include a mock courtroom.

“We plan to incorporate an element of civic learning into the exhibition area that will teach visitors, especially young students, the importance of the rule of law and how the three branches of government are working together to promote our republic, ”Kemp said.

The project was inspired by work done in other states, including Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Wyoming.

Kemp said the visitor center will also provide a loading area for the buses.

“Currently, buses unload on a busy street in front of the Capitol or several blocks away,” he said. “This new loading area will provide a safe place for students to be dropped off and picked up. “

The Palais de Justice was inaugurated in 1958.

Prior to its construction, the chambers and courtroom of the Supreme Court were located in the State Capitol. The former Supreme Court chamber, on the second floor of the south end of the building, is now used for meetings.

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