The Verdict’s in: Prettyman Annex Sets a New Precedent for Courthouse Excellence
Located three blocks from the U.S. Capitol at the intersection of 3rd Street and Constitution Avenue, sits the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse. Designed in 1949, the main courthouse had not been modernized since construction was completed. In 2005, as part of the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) Design Excellence Program, Balfour Beatty was tasked with building the new 350,000-square-foot annex to the prominent, historical federal courthouse.
Revitalizing the Historic E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse
The new Annex includes nine courtrooms, 19 judges' chambers, and support offices for the U.S. Courts for the District of Columbia Circuit. Two below-grade floors accommodate parking for 200 vehicles, secure prisoner circulation, and mechanical and electrical equipment spaces. The Annex was designed to federal blast load criteria and progressive collapse.
The Annex features a variety of high-end finishes. The exterior includes Indiana limestone at the first floor, accompanied by architectural precast panels to match the existing building. Window surrounds and columns are detailed in marble, and a red-cast stone was incorporated into the curtainwalls and recessed areas of the building.
Interior features include extensive millwork and wood paneling in the courtrooms and judges’ chambers. Eighty percent of the building has raised access flooring to facilitate future IT/electrical changes. There are extensive and robust audio/visual systems totaling more than $2M, which include video imaging, touch screen monitors, plasma TVs, projectors, audio systems and other digital equipment in the state-of-the-art courtrooms. The Prettyman Courthouse Annex has a central command center, used to monitor all of the courtroom activities.
Working Around Occupied Spaces
The existing building was fully occupied throughout construction of the new Annex and involved working within a tight site in busy downtown Washington, D.C. Due to the sensitive nature and prominence of this facility, careful planning and consideration of ongoing Court operations was of utmost importance, with much of the work being performed at night. To accommodate work that had to be done during the daytime, sound-proof windows were installed in the existing courthouse to eliminate construction noise. Other measures that were utilized to minimize disturbances were the relocation of the entrance ramp to the existing parking garage, as well as the implementation of temporary fencing and walls throughout.
Among the tasks Balfour Beatty completed without disturbing court operations were excavating under the existing parking garage for a new tunnel and tying into the existing building with 12 new precast bridges.
“I had not been able to visualize how the new garage opening would work, but I was delighted to see how smooth everything went. On-time, no hassle, well-organized: Well done!” praised James Robertson, U.S. District Judge, U.S. Courts.
Mock-ups for Judges’ Review
Because of the prominence of this courthouse, its impeccable detail and its high visibility, Balfour Beatty built a fullscale sample courtroom for approval by a committee consisting of federal judges prior to fabrication of the remaining eight courtrooms. We identified that there was not adequate time to (1) build an in-place courtroom, (2) gather feedback from the judges, (3) incorporate the feedback, and (4) fabricate the remaining eight courtrooms without causing a tremendous impact to the schedule. We proposed, and GSA agreed to, construction of a mock-up offsite concurrent to the construction of the Annex at no cost to the government. This solution allowed the judges to thoroughly review and provide feedback on the courtrooms with enough time to implement their recommendations.
One year prior to completion, a 100 year storm flooded our millwork subcontractor’s fabrication facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The flood completely took out over $1M worth of stored fabricated and unfabricated materials and instantly shut down the facility, putting the company out of business. Balfour Beatty immediately re-procured the millwork, putting together a team of four millwork firms from around the region to begin remaking lost materials. By splitting up the work, we were able to remake the millwork and install new materials without losing valuable time from the schedule.
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