New county courthouse being done right - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

New county courthouse being done right

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Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 2:22 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Fulton Brock: I would like to address the subject of Maricopa County’s new courthouse and the misinformation regarding its construction in downtown Phoenix. It has been mislabeled “a penthouse,” and “it’s lined with marble.” Others have incorrectly said: “It takes hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economy” or “It’s wasting money in a recession.”

These statements are untrue and misleading.

I would like to address the subject of Maricopa County’s new courthouse and the misinformation regarding its construction in downtown Phoenix. It has been mislabeled “a penthouse,” and “it’s lined with marble.” Others have incorrectly said: “It takes hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economy” or “It’s wasting money in a recession.”

These statements are untrue and misleading.

Milton V. Lee's commentary: E.V. must oppose Phoenix-only court system

News: 5 criminal courts to leave Mesa for Phoenix

There’s no marble in the building. None. I have been involved with this project since its inception. The courthouse is being constructed with durable materials to last a long time. Hey,  we’re still using the one built in 1929. The materials are those used in average county courthouse across the country: precast concrete, not stone. It has nickel fixtures, and nothing is gold-plated. It has sturdy materials: terrazzo floors, just right for high-volume public buildings.

The carpet will be laid in squares, so it can be replaced in pieces.

The judges won’t have their own courtrooms. Judges’ offices will be shared. There will be 32 courtrooms in all. Twenty-two will be completed now and 10 will be open space to be used in the future.

As court filings and criminal bookings and filings grow each year, our responsibility is to provide faster and more efficient due process for those who use the court system.

Economists love that we’re injecting $340 million into the market during a recession. The construction industry in Arizona is reeling, having lost 50,000 jobs in the past year. We’re not taking money out of the economy, we’re putting money back in. When the building opens in 2012, this project will have created about 1,600 jobs, 1,200 of them in construction trades. And local suppliers, from Wickenburg to Queen Creek, will profit too.

The courthouse will be built with existing funds, without debt financing. Our budget department estimates saving about $190 million in debt service by not asking taxpayers to pay for bonding with higher property taxes.

If you think about it, we’re doing exactly what Chandler is doing with its City Hall. And like Chandler, we’re saving money. The economic downturn actually works as an advantage. Construction materials are 50 percent lower today than they cost 18 months ago. Cement, copper, steel, aluminum and commodity prices are much lower.

The court tower is a full-service justice complex, part of a 10-year-old master plan to upgrade the jail facilities and provide more courtrooms. When people enter the lobby of the new courthouse, they will not know it, but underneath them there will be a secure holding facility for up to 1,400 inmates. That’s more than there are in the Fourth Avenue Jail. The sheriff’s office was very involved in the planning of this facility, as were victims’ rights groups. That planning process will result in a facility that gives dignity and security to victims and their families.

Finally, by having the criminal courts centralized in the downtown, we will cut down on transporting inmates across the Valley. If we don’t build it, then we will either run out of room downtown for all civil trials, or force expensive, potentially dangerous shuttling of offenders across the county.

The court tower is well designed, well planned and a soundly financed public project. I am proud to have participated in its implementation. We’re doing this project the right way and at the right time.

Fulton Brock is a resident of Chandler and a Maricopa County supervisor representing Ahwatukee Foothills, Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek.

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