High-Tech Court in Kansas

The footprint for the Lyon County Courthouse was long and narrow.

Emporia, Kansas, has a population of about 26,760; the entire county’s population sits at just below 36,000. Its largest employer is a meat processor. And yet the architect touts its district courthouse as one of the most high tech in the Midwest while the audio/visual contractor goes claiming further it is one of the most high tech district courts in the nation.

"As far as I know, there is not another district court that is this [technologically] advanced [in the Midwest]. The Midwest has not had a lot of new district courts," said Dan Rowe, principal and architect at Treanor Architects.

Modeled after Courtroom 21, a facility specifically designed to test technology, the Lyon County Courthouse contains much of the most advanced technology available at the time it was designed in 1999.

Courtroom 21 is part of the project formed between the National Center for State Courts and the College of William and Mary Law School. This actual courtroom, in the McGlothlin Courtroom at the College of William and Mary Law School, is considered the most technologically advanced trial and appellate courtroom. "The Courtroom of the 21st Century Today," is a 1997 recipient of a Foundation for Improvement of Justice Award for its efforts to improve the administration of justice through technology.



Construction Cost: $13.4 million
Size: 98,343 square feet
Owner: Lyon County, Kansas
Owner Representative: Vernon McKinzie, Commissioner
Architect: Treanor Architects
Construction Manager: J.E. Dunn Construction
Design Consultant: HDR
Structural Engineer: Bob D. Campbell & Co.
Detention Equipment Contractor: The Bratton Corp.
Audio/Visual Consultant: Theer & Associates
Audio/Visual Contractor: Smith Audio Visual

The Lyon County Courthouse was constructed in two years and dedicated in February 2001.

The 98,343-square-foot facility has four courtrooms; three with full-technology, and then a smaller hearing room where juvenile cases are heard. The state of Kansas has 13 regional detention centers. Lyon County has juveniles sent to those regional facilities. There is also a county commission room equipped with audio technology, but not video and there is no jury area.

Rowe estimates the large courtrooms are 1,800 square feet each, and the juvenile room, which is not jury capable, is 1,100 square feet.

The district courthouse serves two counties-Lyon and Chase, which according to Rowe, is why the courtrooms are so large.

This smaller courtroom serves juvenile caseloads and is not jury-capable.

Unlike a bankruptcy court or a criminal court, judges at this courthouse handle it all: traffic, civil, criminal, drug, juvenile, etc. "Each judge hears all types of cases and each courtroom needs to be flexible," said Rowe. "Most judges like the diversity."

Each of the three, large high-tech courtrooms contain a 50-inch plasma screen, the largest ones made at that time. There are 12 LCD flat screen monitors in each courtroom. Six for the 12 jurors (three in each row), one at each of the two attorney tables, one at the witness table, one for the court reporter, one at the podium, and one for the judge.

The 10-inch monitor at the judge’s bench incorporates touchscreen technology, which allows a judge to have complete control over what is seen and heard in the courtroom. The judge can mute speakers, switch visual presentations, turn computers on and off, select what is shown on the plasma display, view evidence privately, draw on evidence, and stream video and audio directly to the media room and out of the courthouse.

Jurors can only use their screens for viewing, while screens for witnesses, the podium, and the judge can be drawn on using a special pen.

Those entering the courthouse encounter one x-ray scanner and one metal detector. If needed, the courthouse is designed to accommodate a second scanner and detector.

The touchscreen system is designed to be easy to use. "Even a visiting judge can come in and navigate with the touchscreen, without any assistance," stated Lonnie Theer, president of Theer & Associates, the audio/visual consultant firm. "It is all spelled out on the buttons and colors. It is simple."

The Media Room

The combination of an orderly court and the needs of the press led to the inclusion of a room specifically designed for the media. The media room is approximately 9 feet by 12 feet, said Rowe. It contains phones, writing tables, and several cameras. The cameras feed directly into the courtrooms.

"The judge has control of what video they see and what audio they hear," said Larry Heilman of Smith Audio Video, the contractor that installed the audio/ visual technology.

From the judge’s bench, he/she can also stream information directly outside the facility-a large conduit is piped outside for television and radio trucks to plug into and receive live video and audio.

"The judge has full control and the media has complete access, without being in the courtroom," said Rowe. "No big cameras need to pass through security."

Security/Guard Kiosk

Throughout the three-story facility and in the basement there are 25 pan and tilt cameras, 60 panic alarm switches, and motion detection cameras. There is a mapping program in place whereby wherever an alarm is signaled it activates a flashing red light. "Most of the monitoring is done from the guard kiosk," said Heilman. "It is pretty straight-forward."

The 10-inch monitor at the judge’s bench incorporates touchscreen technology, which allows him or her complete control over what is seen and heard within the courtroom.

Over the next three to four months, the ability to monitor will run over the local area network, or LAN system, explained Heilman. The video stream will go to the sheriff’s department and the adult detention center, at which time the sheriff will be able to monitor the courthouse after hours.

"The LAN system lets anybody that is authorized to monitor," said Heilman. The entire security system for the courthouse will be tied over the LAN.

As of press time, the booking area and control center in the adult detention center were being renovated.

And Treanor Architects is studying a possible expansion at the adult detention center, which would be "vertical," according to Rowe. "That is the only place to go, or to a remote site which then goes back to having to transport inmates back to court."

The county purchased this site to have the jail and court all on one site, explained Rowe. "The difficulty is that because they are downtown, there are jail site constraints." The 150-bed lockup is looking to add another 100 to 50 beds and streets on both sides confine it.

Tight Site, Secure Tunnel

The building is sited on a long and narrow site, and in addition to court functions, it also houses multiple offices that are open to the public.

The audible acoustics are achieved via a combination of oak panels and purple-fabric panels that absorb sound within the gallery. "Costs were kept down by using oak wood squares with a beveled edge," explained Architect Dan Rowe. "These panels hang like a picture."

This district court also holds the county courthouse and secondary functions such as the register of deeds.

"Usually large courthouses built today have only courts circulation. What this courthouse has is all the other county functions, such as getting license plates, property tax appraisal, etcetra," says Rowe.

Construction involved the demolition of five existing buildings, "one- and two-story buildings and fairly run down retail," explained Rowe.

An underground, 150-foot tunnel, or "concrete shaft," was built between the existing jail, across the alley, and the new courthouse for secure transportation of inmates to the hearing rooms. There are four cameras in the tunnel going to the adult detention center, according to Heilman. Those cameras are to be tied into the sheriff’s office over the LAN system.

The shaft is 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall. The holding cell is standard: 12 feet deep, 8 feet wide, and 8 feet high. They contain PTZ cameras. "In the basement level we tunneled to the jail," said Rowe. "Inmates never see anything except [their two designated] elevators, the tunnel, and holding cells," assured Rowe.

On the top floor, the third floor, are four holding cells. There is non-contact inmate visitation, which takes place through a speaker hole and tempered glass. There is no separate holding area for adjudicated juveniles.

The glass curtain wall is comprised of a low-E, insulated, blue-tinted glazing. Also used within the curtain wall is spandrel, which is an opaque material, and used primarily between the second and third floors to mask the ductwork.

The two elevators for inmate transport only stop at the basement and the third floor. The inmate elevators have no cameras; they cannot stop at the ground floor or second floor.

There are also two public elevators and one staff/judge elevator, which is private.

Site Limitations

One of the challenges faced by the project team, and in particular the designers, was the small footprint with which they had to work.

The footprint is about a half-block deep, but the width is 250 feet. It was the only site available to the county, said Rowe. Most buildings in downtown Emporia are no higher than two stories.

The former courthouse is empty. It abuts the new facility on the narrow side.

The courthouse looks grander, explained Rowe, "but we still used brick and stone to blend in with the context of downtown." Most of downtown Emporia is clad in limestone. Architects chose to build the new courthouse from precast concrete and cast stone. "It was chosen for its longevity," said Rowe. "It is more economical."

Costly Equipment

Within the high-tech courtrooms, there are ADA accommodations for the hearing impaired by way of assisted listening devices. The systems consist of an infrared, wireless, hands-free device that casts a signal throughout the room.

State-of-the-art technology cost a quarter of a million dollars in each of the three jury-capable courtrooms, according to Rowe, who heads Treanor’s justice division.

Heilman claims that, "this is one of the most technologically advanced courtrooms in the country." He said a lot of courtrooms are starting to spend money on audio/visual and surveillance. "It helps speed things up."

Heilman estimates that the three courtrooms with full technology cost an estimated $120,000 each to equip with A/V equipment.

As an example, he told how the first two murder trials in the new facility were scheduled to last three weeks each, but the ease of retrieving data was so quick that each only lasted one week. "[The technology] saves time and money."

Much of the time savings stems from the way technology allows for evidence to come into the courtroom and be examined.

There were more than 500 pieces of evidence for the murder trials, said Heilman. "The evidence box could not hold it all." With the digital video equipment, "they don’t have to inbox it, they can just show a digital image," said Heilman.

"[The technology] will pay dividends over time by not having to hire more staff and build more courtrooms. We are able to push procedures through without having more courtrooms."

"[Construction cost] was $134 per square foot," said Rowe. "The building was built pretty economically."


CCTV: Panasonic
Plasma Screens (50 inch): Pioneer
LCD Monitors (18 inch): NEC
LCD Monitors (media room): Marshall
Speakers: Renkus-Heinz
Ceiling Speakers: JBL
10-station Intercom: Aiphone
Infrared Assisted Listening Device: Sennheiser
Digital Audio Processor: Peavey
Touch-Screen Control System: AMX
Card Access: Locknetics
Security Glazing: Globe Amerada Architectural Glass
Security Cell Doors: Habersham Metal Products
Security Locks: Southern Steel
Security Cell Lighting: Lightolier
Security Penal Plumbing: Acorn
Detention Accessories: Southern Steel
Plumbing: Huxtable & Associates
HVAC: Huxtable & Associates
Concrete: Eby Construction
Roofing: Garland Roofing
Gypsum Wallboard: National Gypsum
Floor/Wall Tile: American Olean