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The Legal Intelligencer The perennial blockade to securing a new building for the First Judicial District’s Family Court has been marshaling the political will to pony up tens of millions of public dollars to fund a new site. An initial hoist over that blockade of funding a new building was taken late last year when state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, D-Philadelphia, inserted a $200 million appropriations request to fund a consolidated Family Court building into an omnibus amendment to the proposed 2007-08 fiscal year capital budget. The amendment was prepared on behalf of Fumo’s caucus. The brief item requests $200 million for the “acquisition of site, design, construction, infrastructure and other related costs for the First Judicial District (FJD) Family Court building to be located at 15th and Arch streets.” The capital budget was re-reported to the Senate Appropriations Committee with numerous amendments Dec. 4. FJD Court Administrator David Lawrence said he believes it’s the first time that any attempt has been made to appropriate money for a building that would consolidate the Family Court’s juvenile branch at 1801 Vine St. and the domestic relations branch at 34 S. 11th St. A number of sites have been touted in recent years for a modernized and centralized Family Court facility. But the first in a series of hurdles for the current proposed Family Court location was surmounted when key stakeholders like the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the FJD, former mayor John Street’s office and the Philadelphia Parking Authority gave their blessings to it, The Legal previously reported based upon interviews with court officials. “We’re light years from last summer in that there is a concrete funding proposal,” Lawrence said. “That is a huge step.” The court administrator added later that the 15th and Arch streets site “is better defined than anything that has gone in the past.” However, there are numerous hurdles for the appropriations item to turn into a pot of spendable court building money. Even if the Family Court funding slice survives passage by both houses of the General Assembly and gets inked into law by Gov. Edward G. Rendell, it is up to the governor to decide which capital projects will be financed by bonds depending upon what is financially affordable to avoid hitting the Pennsylvania Constitution’s debt ceiling. Many more public projects are proposed in the capital budget than actually are undertaken by the Pennsylvania government. “It’s not difficult to get them” into the capital budget, said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs. “It’s difficult to get them built.” The capital budget is only a legislative proposal that the committee is still marking up, according to Greg Jordan, the assistant executive director for the Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee. There is no deadline for enacting the budget for public improvement projects that will cost $100,000 or more, but there is a good chance the capital budget may be enacted this spring along with the commonwealth’s operating budget, Jordan said. Gary Tuma, Fumo’s spokesman, said Fumo was approached by state Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille, the incoming chief justice, and other users of the Family Court system with a “strong case” to put an appropriations item for a new building into the capital budget. Fumo did so after other Philadelphia legislators agreed on the need, Tuma said. He said Fumo is optimistic that the court funding budget item will pass through the law-making process and will receive the governor’s imprimatur to be funded later on. “He’s optimistic it will remain in the budget and remain funded,” Tuma said. Chuck Ardo, a Rendell spokesman, said the Rendell administration has been working “with all the parties involved toward making progress” on securing a “modern and efficient family law building in Philadelphia.” But Rendell has not committed to supporting a specific location, Ardo said, and the governor also wants the court system and the city of Philadelphia to help fund the project, whose expense will reach into the nine-figure range. “There are numerous positions held by various parties here and it’s a matter of working out the details in a frank and forthright manner,” Ardo said. In October, Mayor Michael Nutter said a land-use study should be conducted to ensure that a unified Family Court location is in the best interest of the court’s constituents. Nutter also said the Family Court site shouldn’t be picked behind closed doors like other Philadelphia development deals. Nutter said that he wasn’t committing to the 15th and Arch streets site or an alternative West Philadelphia site at 4601 Market St., which is owned by the nonprofit Center for Human Advancement and is being pushed by state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a West Philadelphia Democrat who is on the center’s board. The Philadelphia Bar Association’s family law section wants a Center City site out of the concern that attorneys who handle both criminal and Family Court cases would no longer be able to handle both types of cases if they could no longer juggle appearances if the courts are located in different neighborhoods. The section is also concerned that pro se Family Court litigants relying on public transportation might lose the opportunity to have their day in court if delays in the transportation system cause them to be tardy to court appearances.A call to Nutter’s office was not returned yesterday. Under Street, the city committed to let the court system use the proceeds from the sale of 1801 Vine St. to help fund a new building, said former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, who as a former FJD liaison justice campaigned for a new Family Court building. The court’s lease on 11th Street is ending in the next couple of years. In August, Castille raised the concern if funding could be secured for the site. He still has the same concern five months later. The appropriations item “is a positive development and a step forward, but there are still hurdles to overcome,” Castille said in a statement. “First, the capital budget must be passed into law. Second, the governor must then target this particular project among many in the budget and seek financing for it through the sale of public bonds. When these two steps are completed, then the project can move forward to the construction phase.” Castille has decided to stay as the liaison justice to the FJD in part to push the Family Court project forward. “We are anxiously awaiting the building of a new Family Courthouse and are most appreciative of our Chief Justice Castille’s leadership in making this long-needed facility a reality,” Family Court Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty said in a statement. The court system is taking every possible opportunity to lobby on behalf of a new facility, Lawrence said. He said he believes it can’t hurt that Rendell hails from Philadelphia. No detailed construction costs have been determined yet, Lawrence said, but the $200 million figure is based upon “generally accepted costs.” Castille said in August the site would cost at least $100 million. Developer Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. has an option on the property and will build to suit if financial backing can be secured, The Legal previously reported. “We hope that particular line item will stay in that budget and we will finally see the construction of a consolidated Family Court building,” Lawrence said.

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