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New, Modern, Safer Courthouse Opens in San Antonio

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U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez was all smiles as he cut the ceremonial ribbon with an oversized pair of scissors, officially opening the new federal courthouse in San Antonio. A dedication ceremony in April marked a satisfying conclusion to the judge’s 19-year effort to work with GSA to secure funding to build a safer and more welcoming space for those resolving disputes in the Western District of Texas.

“Perseverance and collaboration with our local representatives were key to this effort,” Rodriguez said. “There were times I thought to myself that this day would never come, but I kept working at it.”

In late 2015, Congress funded one of the largest modernizations of federal courthouses in recent decades, approving $948 million to fully fund eight new courthouse projects, including San Antonio. Three federal courthouse buildings opened last year, and four more have opened or are expected to open soon.

“While Congress’s approval of these projects may not be unprecedented, it is certainly unusual in modern times,” said Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick, chair of the Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee. “This investment is essential to providing access and safety to all — jurors, lawyers, court employees, parties to a case, and the public – so that they may focus on the administration of justice in a fitting setting. Everyone in the Judiciary, and the public at large, should be grateful to Congress, the General Services Administration, and the Judiciary for coming together to tackle the often urgent needs these new courthouse projects address.”

The new courthouse in San Antonio replaces the John H. Wood Jr. U.S. Courthouse, originally built for the 1968 World’s Fair before being reconfigured into a courthouse in the 1970s. The new facility also consolidates administrative and training functions that were in the San Antonio Federal Building and Adrian Spears Training Center.

“We were in desperate need of a new space. We had lead pipes bursting, frequent heating and cooling issues, and faced security risks due to poor design,” Rodriguez said.

At the Wood courthouse, shackled detainees shared the same building entrance as court visitors and could end up riding the elevator with the judge or jurors involved in their case. The new courthouse features several security improvements, including a sally port and a series of restricted corridors to process prisoners, judges and judicial staff, and visitors securely and efficiently around the courthouse.

Additionally, the Wood Courthouse had very few windows or opportunity for natural light. The new courthouse provides copious amounts of natural light in the thoughtfully designed atrium and through the building’s many skylights and full-height windows with views of San Antonio’s new San Pedro Creek Riverwalk.

Rodriguez also noted the state-of-the-art courtroom technology. This new technology offers the ability to easily stream video proceedings into neighboring courtrooms if social distancing policies are reenacted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The new three-story, 235,000 square foot courthouse features a modern design, with references towards traditional judicial architecture. In addition to eight courtrooms, including a courtroom for special proceedings, and 13 chambers, the federal building houses the district’s probation and pretrial services offices, federal defender office, U.S. marshal’s office, and U.S. attorney’s office.

Related Topics: Courthouses

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