Anniston’s planned new federal courthouse will be an energy-efficient three-story structure with a limestone-and-brick façade, according to plans released Friday morning by the federal General Services Administration.
“The people of Anniston have eagerly awaited the start of this project, and this design gives them a glimpse into the future of their downtown,” Kevin Kerns, regional commissioner for GSA’s Public Buildings Service, was quoted as saying in a press release.
Anniston’s city government moved out of its old city hall building on Gurnee Avenue earlier this year so that building and others can be razed to make room for the new $42.6 million federal courthouse. City officials had been lobbying for a new courthouse for years.
According to a GSA press release, the new building will include a “district courtroom, a bankruptcy courtroom, three judges’ chambers and 13 secured parking spaces.” It will also be LEED-Gold certified, according to the release, which means it will be designed to meet a high standard of energy efficiency.
According to the GSA announcement, the new courthouse will host “U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a bankruptcy administrator and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System.”
That appears to be the first official confirmation that the courthouse will include a federal probation office. Local officials were already aware of the bankruptcy and district courts, and were expecting a Marshals Service office and a U.S. attorney’s office. City officials in recent weeks expressed a desire to see more federal functions operating out of the courthouse, to increase downtown activity.
Construction of the courthouse is expected to employ about 400 people, according to a Jacksonville State University study released in February. City planner Toby Bennington said city officials don’t yet know how many employees will work at the courthouse after it’s completed.
Floor plans for the 63,000-square foot facility aren’t available yet, GSA spokesman Adam Rondeau said.
City Councilwoman Millie Harris said she was pleased with the proposed building’s look.
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“I like the traditional style, because it fits in with the other architecture downtown,” Harris said. “Something ultramodern wouldn’t have looked right.”
The design closely mimics the look of the current federal courthouse on Noble Street, with one facade featuring three tall, arched windows flanked by bas-relief sculptures that look like columns.
Anniston architect David Christian said those neo-classical elements are a way of communicating the building’s function through design. They echo both the existing federal courthouse, he said, as well as the general style used for federal buildings since the nation’s founding.
Christian consulted on the project with its lead architects, Texas-based Page Sutherland Page. His main role, he said, dealt with the new courthouse’s relationship to the community and the way the public is likely to perceive the building. Incorporating much of the design of the existing courthouse was important, he said.
“From an artistic and stylistic standpoint, it could be any federal building in any small town,” Christian said of the current structure. But downtown Anniston’s urban environment, he said, gives the building a different connection to its surroundings, set as it is hard on the corner of Noble and 12th streets.
“It is engaging the main street of downtown Anniston in a way that many courthouses do not,” Christian said.
One major difference is that the new courthouse is set back from the road, while the older courthouse uses the entire lot. Rondeau, the GSA spokesman, said setbacks are common in new federal buildings for security reasons.
The city is set to one day take possession of the old Noble Street courthouse, part of a land swap in which the GSA acquired City Hall. The city also got $520,000 from the GSA in the swap. City officials have considered the courthouse as a possible future site for City Hall, though the building will still be used by the courts until the new courthouse is completed.
Since August, city government has been conducting its operations out of a temporary city hall in rented space in the Consolidated Publishing building. The building is owned by the Anniston Star’s parent company and still houses the Star’s offices. Councilman Ben Little opposed that move, citing the cost of the lease and the fact that the McClellan Boulevard location is on the northern end of town, not downtown.
Little on Friday said he still supports construction of the new courthouse. He said he hadn’t seen the designs released Friday.
“I’m not going to look at it,” he said. “With $42 million to build with, I’m sure it’s fine.”
Little said he believed the city should have demanded more compensation from the city for City Hall and the cost of the move.
“Out of $42 million, they ought to be able to pull out $4 million for the city,” he said. “That would not hurt.”
Construction on the new courthouse is expected to begin this fall.