The state courthouse complex in lower Manhattan is known for its architectural splendor, but proposals over the past few decades to improve aging conditions in the interiors and sew up fragmented offices and courts spread over multiple buildings have gone nowhere while other boroughs get shiny new court facilities.
Now the state court system and the city have recently restarted the conversation. According to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the city has allocated $2 million to commission an architectural study for improvements to the court complex.
The study is being conducted by the Manhattan-based firm Perkins Eastman, which has a long track record of working on court facilities in New York. It was the architect behind the Queens Civil Courthouse, which was erected in 1997; and the 32-story, 1.1 million-square-foot Brooklyn Supreme and Family Courthouse, which opened in 2005 and cost $670 million.
While specific details about how the buildings could be improved are yet to be determined, high on the list of priorities for court officials is finding out how to consolidate facilities for Manhattan Civil Court, which is split between 71 Chambers St., 80 Centre St., 111 Centre St. and—perhaps the most well-known of the group—60 Centre St., which featured prominently in the film “12 Angry Men” and in the opening credits for “Law & Order.”
“You don’t want one court in four different places in lower Manhattan,” said Ronald Younkins, executive director of the Office of Court Administration.
Among other issues that officials would like to address around the buildings, Younkins said, is conditions at 100 Centre St., which houses the Manhattan supreme and criminal courts, where arrivals are greeted with an “uninviting” lobby and a lack of air conditioning, as well as issues with infrastructure throughout the complex such as aging elevators.
But what makes improving court facilities in Manhattan a “puzzle” compared with the process in other boroughs, Younkins said, is the relative density of the area, as well as the age of the buildings.
The cramped conditions may be inconvenient for many, but for some it can be traumatizing.
Karen Friedman Agnifilo, chief assistant district attorney for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, said present conditions mean jurors and lawyers as well as defendants and victims of crime may end up taking the same doors or standing in the same queue.
“I challenge you to find a worse courthouse than 100 Centre St.,” Friedman Agnifilo said, adding that the conditions at the courthouses do little to “inspire confidence” for victims of crime.
For its part, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which occupies about 300,000 square feet at the complex, is also split between several buildings.
On a recent tour of the DA’s offices, ADAs were tucked into tight offices, sometimes four or five wedged into offices made for two. Some areas were cluttered with tagged evidence stacked on the floor and with boxes of files.
“These buildings have never been renovated or modernized in any significant way,” said Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. earlier this year during testimony before the New York City Council regarding the budget for his office. “The residents of Manhattan and the public service professionals who serve them deserve court facilities that properly reflect the respect and dignity we hold for the criminal justice system.”