Posted: March 5, 2003
COLD COMFORT COURTHOUSE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The complaints about the mice have faded, and
the cat that once roamed the 11th floor is long gone.
In the six months since the New Castle County
Courthouse opened, there is no longer so much barnyard-like
chattering about it as teeth chattering.
The place is really cold.
The justice center at 5th and King streets in
Wilmington, the biggest and most costly building the state of
Delaware ever has built at more than $130 million, remains a
curiosity after a half-year in operation, a boxy, looming structure
that the bench, bar and public have yet to warm up to -- literally
It is 12 stories of McBuilding, a setting with
all the charm of an airplane hangar. Its limitations are
acknowledged even by Edward G. Pollard Jr., the justice center's
administrator who knows its quirks and crannies better than anyone
and is doing his best to make the courthouse a home.
"The space is very functional. It's not
elaborate. It does need soul," Pollard said.
Others are less charitable. On first
impression, one visitor cracked, "It looks like a steamship office
in the front and a railroad station in the back, so you can ship
them in and railroad them out."
Pollard's most pressing problem these days is
the temperature in the yawning entryway that includes the courthouse
lobby and the area around the escalators connecting the lower three
floors. While the rest of the building seems comfortable enough, the
entrance is so cold that the security detail and the people at the
information desk wear winter coats, hats and gloves to stay at their
It means that going into the courthouse has
all the appeal of a visitors' center in Siberia.
Pollard puts the temperature in the front of
the building in the high 50s or low 60s most days, although there is
one spot near a doorway where the readings generally hover in the
40s. The situation appears to have something to do with air pressure
balance -- cold air rushing in, instead of warm air rushing out,
when doors open -- but why it is happening and which contractor
should fix it have yet to be sorted out, Pollard said.
Aside from an obvious problem like the cold,
the courthouse still does not feel settled in. Many of its offices
lack permanent signs, and there are any number of unpacked cartons
here and there. Pollard himself has been so busy with everyone else
that he has yet to outfit his own office with much more than a
rickety table with a sawhorse for legs.
Some problems have been more serious. The
courthouse had its first escape in November, when a 19-year-old
defendant reacted to his 10-year sentence for armed robbery by
jumping over the courtroom bar and racing away. Authorities caught
him a few weeks later in Atlantic City, but it was not a good
beginning for a justice center that state officials had predicted
would be a model of security.
There is also the matter of having a
courthouse that does not look like a courthouse. It is still too new
for there to be stories that will give it the aura, if not the
appearance, of a courthouse, and the memories of the old place, the
Daniel L. Herrmann Courthouse on Rodney Square, are still too fresh.
That was a courthouse that looked the part
with its ponderous columns, its granite and marble, and its darkly
paneled courtrooms. As if to make that point, all through the new
courthouse there are framed prints of the old one.
Still, there are certain signs of appreciation
for the new one. The workers are no longer crammed together the way
they were, and the building is designed for 21st Century technology,
not retrofitted for it imperfectly like the Herrmann Courthouse,
which was nearly a century old. The acoustics in the new courtrooms
make it easy to listen, a welcome change from the dead spots in the
"I'd much rather be here than the old
courthouse," said Robert Golebiewski, who works in the pre-sentence
Golebiewski does not miss the bat that he and
his co-workers left behind in the Herrmann Courthouse, and he likes
having the space to accommodate the 200 or so files that the office
adds to its records each month.
If the new courthouse has a saving grace, it
is the view. From its highest floors, Wilmington stretches below in
panoramic display, the Delaware River to the east and the populous
hills to the west, all the way to the distinctive top of Rockford
Tower. In the spacious corridors with a promenade of windows
overlooking the city, it is possible to think the courthouse may not
just be an odd appendage to the Wilmington skyline, but may come to
In the meantime, Ed Pollard has to figure out
how to make the courthouse entrance warmer. While he works on the
mechanics, he has another solution in mind. He calls it "Spring."
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