Future Of Historic Federal Courthouse On Georgia Avenue Up In The Air

  • Friday, December 1, 2023
Federal Courthoue on Georgia Avenue
Federal Courthoue on Georgia Avenue

The federal government's General Services Administration, with a new federal courthouse planned to be ready by 2030, is still in the process of making a final determination on how to best dispose of the historic Joel W. Solomon Building.

The marble structure on Georgia Avenue across from Miller Park was the final creation of noted Chattanooga architect R.H. Hunt.

An environmental assessment draft report says, "GSA will take into account multiple points of consideration, including financial viability, availability of appropriations, the needs and requirements of the federal tenancy, as well as the historic significance of the property.

"It is GSA’s goal to make a decision for the Solomon Building that is in the best interest of the Federal Government and taxpayers. Disposal options will be determined through the GSA disposal process.

"Future reuse of the Solomon Building is not part of the Proposed Action and is not considered in this EA."

GSA earlier "determined that renovation and expansion of the existing courthouse was not feasible due to the cost for such renovations, disruption to existing courthouse operations during renovations, and the lack of additional space to accommodate the additional square footage necessary to bring the existing courthouse into compliance with the U.S. Courts Design Guide, as amended in 2008 and 2016 (Judicial Conference of the United States 2021)."

The existing federal courthouse serves the Eastern District of Tennessee, one of 94 federal judicial districts established across the country. Each district has its own U.S. District Court. In addition to the District Court itself, the Solomon Building hosts other judicial and non-judicial-related tenants. It was constructed in 1933 and currently supports four courtrooms and three district judges, one senior district judge, and two magistrate judges.

The report says, "The courthouse building lacks adequate security, does not provide for future expansion, and does not meet USCDG (U.S. Courthouse Design Guide) standards. Because of inadequacies in the existing building’s configuration and size, judges, prisoners, and the public must use the same public elevators and corridors. There are not enough courtroom holding cells. The prisoner access route to one of the magistrate judge courtrooms passes through the magistrate judge’s chambers. Further, the building lacks a prisoner sally port, adequate setbacks, or perimeter barriers. The building has ongoing water infiltration issues, mold issues, and a major rat infestation throughout the building, as well as the presence of asbestos. None of the courtrooms meet the recommended size requirements of the USCDG, nor accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities."

The new courthouse will have approximately 190,478 gross square feet and accommodate 40 secured parking spaces, seven courtrooms, and nine chambers.

Tenants of the existing courthouse that would move to the new Courthouse currently include:

• U.S. District Court,

• Circuit Library,

• U.S. Probation Office,

• U.S. Department of Justice - U.S. Marshals Service,

• U.S. Department of Justice - Office of the U.S. Attorneys,

• Congressional Offices, and

• GSA.

In addition, the Bankruptcy Court and potentially the U.S. Trustees would relocate to the new Courthouse from their current leased space in the Old Post Office Custom House Building, located at the intersection of E. 11th Street and Lindsay Street, it was stated.

The report states, "While the U.S. Attorney’s Office currently located in the Old Post Office Custom House Building would not move to the new courthouse, the proposed courthouse would include approximately 1,500 square feet of trial preparation space for their use."

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