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Why does the proposed new courthouse cost $182 million? That seems expensive for a building.

Courthouse buildings are unique; they include features that make them quite different than standard office buildings. Estimated to cost $386 per square foot, the proposed new Johnson County Courthouse is in alignment with industry cost standards for courthouses of similar size and metropolitan locations. Standard office building costs can be half that. 

The following are cost drivers in a courthouse design:

  • Circulation: There are three distinct and separate circulation groups in a courthouse for inmate (secure), staff (and judiciary), and public. As a result, more finished floor space is built out for this circulation requirement.  This increases the cost per square foot over other types of  building construction.
     
  • Volume:  Much discussion is had about cost per foot of a building, but the necessity of larger ceiling heights in courtrooms require larger floor-to-floor heights and therefore more volume per sq ft than in other building types. This volume creates additional wall area and thus more cost per foot.
     
  • Audio/Visual and acoustic systems are necessary throughout the courtroom areas as well as public spaces, driving costs per foot higher.
     
  • Security: From the secure entry, which requires more area, to the holding cells, which are quite expensive per foot, the security nature of the building envelope and site make this building type very intense for security systems ranging from locking devices to camera systems, and can be $15-$25 per sq ft by themselves.
     
  • Mechanical systems in courtrooms require a lower volume air flow to suppress surges of noise in courtrooms. This is not about comfort as much as it is a recognition of the sensitive recording devices. This combined with large people loads at a wide variation of times, requires a more complex mechanical system to heat and cool the spaces and still conserve energy.
     
  • Structural systems can be more expensive than office environments because the larger spaces require more open span and the assembly occupancy of the courtrooms requires larger loading than do office environments.
     
  • Building envelopes of office buildings are typically designed around a developer-led building turnover with a specific number of years before anticipated renovations. As public buildings are more apt to span longer times between renovations of both interior and exterior materials, the courthouse is typically designed as a 50-100 year building rather than the 20-30 year projections on office buildings.

Click here for additional details about what would make a new courthouse more expensive than an office building.