The Office of Court Administration and local authorities have come to terms on three major capital projects that will result in new Family Court facilities in Nassau and Westchester counties, and the restoration of court space in the Orange County Government Center that was lost to the judiciary after a pair of storms in 2011.
OCA is recommending that the New York State Court Facilities Capital Review Board sign off on all three projects when the panel meets next week in Albany.
The panel, comprised of appointees of the chief judge, governor and legislative leaders, must approve all local government plans for court facilities. The proposals before the board are as follows:
Nassau County Family Court at 1200 Old Country Rd., Westbury, and below, a rendering of the proposed courthouse in Mineola.
Photo: NYLJ/Rick Kopstein
Rendering: Perkins Eastman Architects
• Nassau County Family Court: Convert the county’s former Social Services building in Mineola into a combined Family Court/Matrimonial Center and relocate the Integrated Domestic Violence Court from the county courthouse to the new facility at a cost of $168 million. The renovated and enlarged building would include 23 Family Court courtrooms with a corresponding number of chambers, 13 courtrooms in the third floor Matrimonial Center and holding facilities for adult and juvenile detainees. Construction is slated to begin in July 2014, with a projected opening in September 2016.
• Westchester County Family Court: Relocate the Family Court in Yonkers to 22,775 square feet of renovated space on Warburton Avenue. Additionally, another 30,000 square feet in an adjacent building would house the county attorney, the Probation Department and the Office for Women, all of which provide Family Court support services. The relocation to leased facilities would increase by more than 50 percent the space available to the Family Court and would include three courtrooms and a children’s center. Once a lease is negotiated and building permits are issued, the renovation work is expected to take six to nine months.
• Orange County Government Center: Restore and renovate the court portion of the Government Center that was evacuated after flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and Tropical Storm Lee a week later. The $18.7 million project would begin in early 2015, with an anticipated occupancy date of December 2016. Interim space would be provided by restoration of the nearby 1841 Courthouse.
The proposals were advanced over the past week by the respective county executives—Edward Mangano in Nassau County, Edward Diana in Orange County and Robert Astorino in Westchester County—to the facilities board. If endorsed by the review board, the proposals would then go back to the counties for final approval. Under the Court Facilities Act of 1987, local governments are responsible for accommodating the courts capital needs, although state aid defrays some of the cost.
Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, who is a voting member of the review board, in a statement yesterday commended the county executives "for their leadership and vision" and said she looks "forward to working with each of them to implement these plans and appreciate their commitment to improving the quality of justice in their counties."
The other members of the review board are Tina Fernandez, a partner at Hinman, Howard & Kattell in Binghamton; Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene Weinstein, D-Brooklyn; and Senator Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island.
Ronald Younkins, the court system’s executive director, said that if the review board approves the plans, long lingering projects would take a huge step toward fruition.
"We have been very concerned about the condition of these facilities, particularly the Family Court in Nassau and the Family Court in Yonkers, for many years," Younkins said. "They are among the worst Family Court facilities in the state. This represents a significant improvement and will provide the users of these courts with facilities that are appropriate, dignified and we are very pleased with the plan that has been put forward in cooperation with the counties."
The Orange County situation has been especially controversial and led to a number of testy exchanges between county officials and OCA, which objected to the use of "temporary" cramped space in a courthouse annex without making any provision for a permanent solution (NYLJ, June 7, June 29, 2012).
"In Orange County, we were forced out of the building nearly two years ago and relocated to an annex," said Younkins, who had threatened Diana with sanctions if the county neglected to either renovate the flood-damaged offices or provide suitable alternative space. "The Family Court had to give up space to the Supreme Court. We are very pleased the county has decided to restore and renovate the portion of the Government Center that is the court’s home."
Diana, in a May 13 letter to Prudenti proposing the renovation, said the county was forced to close the Government Center after the 2011 storms because of "health and safety issues." He indicated the county attempted to accommodate the courts and has already created two new courtrooms in the courthouse annex, relocated the county attorney to provide additional space for the judiciary and has renovated the 1841 Courthouse.
The Yonkers Family Court Facility has been among the "worst in the state" for at least a decade, according to Supreme Court Justice Alan Scheinkman, the administrative judge in the Ninth Judicial District.
"We are really excited and this is a great day," Scheinkman said. "The courts have had an incredibly positive relationship with Westchester County and County Executive Astorino and Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett. This has really gone very smoothly with the Astorino administration and we are very pleased."
Scheinkman said the condition of the Family Court Facility in Yonkers has been an issue since he was Westchester County attorney in the late 1990s.
"I just cannot tell you how excited I am for the future of the Family Court in Yonkers," Scheinkman said. "The judges, the staff and, most importantly, the public will all benefit from this."
Scheinkman acknowledged that Orange County was "a little harder" due to the unforeseeable and unexpected impact of the storms, but added, "We are heading in the right direction."
Paul Lamanna, the Tenth District executive in Nassau County, said he is "thrilled and grateful" that OCA has approved the plans.
"We are so happy to hear the news," Lamanna said. "These are things that take a lot of detail and planning and this is a milestone. We are here to be of assistance to the public and this will allow us to enhance accessibility and deliver services to so many families in our community facing the most difficult of legal challenges."
The current Westbury courthouse was originally build in 1960 for two judges, but now has nine courtrooms and six hearing rooms.
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