The $340-million Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse opened its doors to the public Monday, its glass facade glimmering in the sunlight just down the street from the decrepit 55-year-old Long Beach courthouse it is replacing.
The new 531,000-square-foot building, part of the Los Angeles County Superior Court System, has 24 operating courtrooms with room to expand to 30, according to court officials. The new building is more than 65% bigger than the old courthouse.
The building has wireless Internet access throughout and space for five retail occupants, including the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
Standing outside of the courthouse, Montoya Salvador, 68, of Los Angeles was in awe.
“It’s a marvelous building,” said Salvador, who was in court to file divorce papers. “It’s very nice inside too; there’s a lot of space, it has a nice courtyard and the hallways are long and wide so you’re not breathing on anyone’s neck.”
State officials said the old Long Beach courthouse was one of the most outdated in the state, known for overcrowding, lines that stretched around the block and security problems.
It also had rat and cockroach infestations, court officials said.
The building was declared seismically unsafe and unable to adequately serve Long Beach’s population, said Keby Boyer, a spokeswoman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
In 2005 when a juror had a heart attack in the old building, paramedics were slowed by faulty escalators and an elevator that did not reach the 6thfloor, where the juror was stricken. By the time paramedics reached the floor, the juror had died, according to court documents and officials.
The old courthouse had three public elevators. The new courthouse has six, as well as stairs and escalators.
The Deukmejian Courthouse opens as the county’s court system grapples with budget cuts that forced the closure of eight regional courthouses this year and the elimination of more than 500 jobs.
The courts are funded by the state, and the Long Beach courthouse is the first to be built as a public-private funding partnership, Boyer said.
The developer, Long Beach Judicial Partners – a consortium of design, construction and real estate companies – paid for construction of the building up front, Boyer said. The state will repay the cost, plus interest, over 35 years, she said.
The plans to create a public-private partnership started under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration as a way to explore new sources of funding for the much-needed courthouses, Boyer said.
Courthouse staffers Monday pushed leather chairs from the old facility down the street to the new one. Files were still being transferred, and some visitors were asked to return next week to have their cases heard.
Still, court users marveled at the new building.
A homeless man sitting near a tree outside yelled at two police officers as they walked out of the new building: “I love the new courthouse!”
The officers looked back and smiled.