Your Stimulus Dollars at Work: U.S. Courthouse, Bakersfield, California

Recently completed Bakersfield Federal Courthouse (Photo: KBAK/KBFX)

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed by President Obama in 2009 called for major new construction and the energy-efficient modernization of federal office buildings, courthouses and land ports across the country. This is the fourth piece in a series in which we examine some of the projects funded by these stimulus dollars.

The new federal courthouse in Bakersfield, Calif., has been built with $28.5 million in ARRA funding, by a collaboration between Gilbane Building Co. and NBBJ Architects of Seattle, under the GSA’s expedited Design and Construction Excellence Program. That program, which condensed the entire design and construction process into about two and a half years, has resulted in the project’s being completed almost two months ahead of schedule and roughly $2.5 million under budget. The two-story, 33,400-square-foot building at 510 19th Street will house the U.S. Magistrate Court, U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services. Located adjacent to the Bakersfield Central Park on a site donated by the city, the structure is seen as a vital part of the Central Park at Mill Creek revitalization project. It was designed to enhance the city’s civic center while offering sweeping views of the park and water landscape along the western side of the building.

The structure also was designed to earn a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Clean sightlines, natural lighting, and acoustic design elements are integrated throughout the building, which will be the first in the nation to use chilled beam technology for cooling. Staff members began moving in this week (July 9–13); the courthouse is scheduled to open for business on Monday, July 16, although a formal ribbon-cutting celebration will not be held until September 28.

One of the biggest challenges designers faced was how to make the building both secure and accessible to the public. Security requirements for federal courthouses have increased since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the Bakersfield courthouse thus features extensive security and monitoring systems, including a glass-enclosed “ice cube” structure that houses security screening staff and equipment at the building’s entrance.

At the heart of the structure is a federal courtroom equipped with sophisticated electronic equipment—including large display screens on which evidence will be presented to jurors—as well as high windows along the ceiling that provide ample daylight. The building also contains chambers for the presiding U.S. magistrate and a visiting judge, offices for court and pre-trial staff as well as marshals and seven holding cells capable of holding up to 20 prisoners.

When—and in honor of whom—will the courthouse be named? That may not be determined for years, since it requires an act of Congress. Last year, at the behest of federal judges in Fresno, Republican Rep. Jim Costa and Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to name the building after the late Judge Myron Crocker. But Crocker had no ties to Bakersfield, and few people there had ever heard of him. Others have proposed naming the courthouse after former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren (a former California attorney general and governor who grew up in Bakersfield), recently deceased Kern County Superior Court Judge Arthur Wallace or several other local legal legends. Costa, Boxer, and Feinstein later withdrew their legislation, and the building’s name remains in question. In the meantime, as the Bakersfield Californian reports, “a simple but elegant sign adorns the building’s front on 19th Street. It reads: United States Courthouse.”

Want to learn more about GSA’s stimulus spending projects? Click our “Stimulus” link in the column to the right or visit GSA’s interactive map showing all of the projects on which it is spending its $5.5 billion in ARRA funds.