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A Center City parking lot owned by the Philadelphia Parking Authority has emerged as the latest leading site for a new Family Court building, but the Philadelphia Supreme Court liaison justice to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court remains concerned whether political will can be marshaled to fund the project. A number of sites have been discussed in recent years to provide a consolidated and safer building for the Family Court’s juvenile branch at 1801 Vine St. and the domestic relations branch at 34 S. 11th St. The parking lot at 15th and Arch streets has been subject to discussions between the court system, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Mayor John Street’s office, Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s office and the Parking Authority, officials said last week. “It’s possible we could still be talking about this in two years,” Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille said. “But the players, the stakeholders, are all on board.” It is not yet clear how much the city of Philadelphia could afford to contribute to a new Family Court building, how much money the state would be willing to contribute and how much money could be obtained from private foundations or the federal government, Castille said. Jeffrey Rotwitt, the tenant representative who has been looking on behalf of the court since 2005 for a new Family Court site, said the 15th and Arch streets location has close to universal support from stakeholders. “I think we almost have unanimity on this site,” Rotwitt said. “It’s not that often that we have all the stars aligned for a given outcome.” Rotwitt is a partner with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel. “People are working on this very hard,” Castille said. “We’ve been in contact with the mayor’s office. The mayor’s all for it. We’ve been in contact with the governor. It’s going to take a certain amount of funding.” Building a new site at 15th and Arch streets will cost over $100 million, Castille said. But he hopes that if financing can be worked out this year, construction could be started in 2008 and finished in two years. He said the projected costs of running a new building compare favorably to the costs of renting a building, especially with the rental price increases expected in the next couple of years. Rotwitt said financial analysis is still being completed so it would be premature to discuss the exact costs of the project. Linda Miller, senior director of facilities and public affairs for the Parking Authority, confirmed that 15th and Arch streets is being discussed as a possible Family Court building site. But Miller declined further comment. A spokesman for Street said the mayor’s office wasn’t going to weigh in right now. Judge Kevin Dougherty, the administrative judge of the Family Division, was not available for comment Friday. Developer Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. has an option on the property and will build to suit if financial backing can be secured, Castille said. Castille and David Lawrence , the city’s court adminstrator, said another site at 4601 Market St. in West Philadelphia is still in play. But that site would involve rehabilitating an existing structure, Castille said. Lawrence called 15th and Arch “an ideal location.” State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a West Philadelphia Democrat, who according to The Philadelphia Inquirer is on the board of the owner of that site, the nonprofit Center for Human Advancement, did not return a phone call for comment Friday. Since Castille became the liaison justice earlier this year, he has toured the juvenile court facility at 18th and Vine streets and the domestic relations facility at 34 S. 11th St. He said 11th Street is in “deplorable” condition and is not conducive to safety in an environment involving angry spouses confronting each other. He said neither building is modern and secure enough to function as a modern courthouse with the caseload level present within its walls. He also noted the lease on 11th Street is ending in the next couple of years. A number of sites have been researched as a modern, combined replacement for the two Family Court buildings, but many of them will not work out, Castille and Rotwitt said. Sites that have been examined and eliminated include: 15th and Spring Garden streets, Eighth and Market streets, and 39th and Market streets. Comprehensive analysis, including some plans, were completed on all the sites, but there were substantial issues for each site’s viability in comparison to 15th and Arch streets, Rotwitt said. The West Philadelphia sites involve refurbishing a building and building a new building, in comparison to efficiently building a combined structure, Rotwitt said. Rotwitt said the 15th and Arch streets site is superior because it is centrally located with access to many modes of public transportation; it has excellent proximity to attorneys’ offices; and it is near to governmental buildings, including the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS). “We basically have a consensus that this is a preeminent location for a magnificent building that will accommodate the court’s future and current needs,” Rotwitt said. “And we are simply continuing the incredible effort of planning for it and costing it out and looking at ways the cost will be paid for by the city and the state.” Judicial system advocates expressed cautious optimism that this latest proposed site, in comparison to other sites touted in the past, actually will result in a new building. Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a legal advocacy organization for women that completed a 2003 report raising issues with the Family Court’s domestic-relations division, said justice can’t be served in facilities that are overcrowded and inaccessible. But she said she believes the last two months have brought a real push to secure a building. “If we can build stadiums in Pennsylvania, we can build decent family courts,” Tracy said. Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said it will require an alignment of the stars for all the players – the court system, the mayor, Harrisburg and the legal and public interest communities – to come together to make a new building site happen. But the recent public dialogue about the 15th and Arch streets site heartens her, she said. “I think all the players realize how important this is,” Marks said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve not heard any of the major players say that this isn’t important and vital.” Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, which offers free legal and social services to children, said a new facility is needed to unify the domestic relation and juvenile functions of Family Court, rather than sending families involved in multiple proceedings to different courtrooms in different buildings. “If the site is going to be at 15th and Arch, that’s going to be an exciting development because of its proximity to the other courts, to DHS,” Cervone said. “There is a huge need to unite the family courts in our city,” Lawrence said. “Hopefully this time we’ll be able to get it done.” The 15th and Arch streets site does not address the future needs of the Youth Study Center, which must move before the Barnes Foundation can move its gallery collection to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. No specific date for the move has been set.

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