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County Hopes to Finish Work on New Courthouse Within Several Weeks

August 13, 1989|RICK HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — Workers moved about last week putting the finishing touches on a new municipal courthouse--seven months late.

Completion of the courthouse has been delayed primarily because some equipment had to be improved to make the building's detention cells more secure, said R. E. Abbott, the county's senior deputy director of construction and real property services. Several fire doors also needed to be replaced and other safety features improved.

The $18.8-million, four-story building should be completed within budget in the next several weeks, Abbott said. It was initially scheduled for completion last January.

Downey Municipal Court officials are anxious to move out of separate buildings they occupy near City Hall.

"We're hoping that it's going to open soon," Presiding Judge Donald L. Wilson said. "I wish it would open tomorrow. It's a vast improvement over the worn-out building we're using."

Approved in December, 1986

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the courthouse project in December, 1986. The 101,000-square-foot courthouse is next to the county library on the southeast corner of Imperial Highway and Old River School Road. It will serve the Downey Municipal Court District, which includes Downey, Norwalk and La Mirada.

The new building will replace a courthouse on 3rd Street that is too small to house all the court facilities. The old courthouse was built in 1951 and later expanded.

The district attorney's office, the public defender's office, the civil and small claims office and the jurors' assembly room occupy rented space in buildings near the old courthouse. Those offices will be consolidated in the new courthouse, which includes seven courtrooms and two hearing rooms.

Abbott said officials decided to change an electronic system that controls double doors to the courthouse's detention cells after a review by a Sheriff's Department expert. The cells will be used by prisoners waiting for hearings.

"We went to a little better model because there was some concern on the part of our security staff that it might not be secure enough," Abbott said.

There were about a dozen instances where fire doors, ceilings and smoke barriers needed to be improved to meet safety standards. County and city fire officials discovered the deficiencies during recent inspections, Abbott said.

A final inspection is scheduled before the building is occupied, he said.

Attention to Fire Protection

"One of the things we almost always have problems with on these types of facilities is getting the fire protection system right," Abbott said.

Downey court officials say they are happy with the design and furnishings of the new courthouse now that several relatively minor changes have been made.

During the planning phase, the judges requested that a doorway from a public corridor into their library be eliminated.

"It's a security device," Wilson said. "We don't want a doorway open to public access to the back of the courthouse."

The judges also requested that small windows be added to the courtroom doors to enhance security. Also, a room had to be enlarged to accommodate computer equipment.

And then there was a carpeting problem.

There was supposed to be blue carpeting in the judges' library and green carpeting in an employees' lounge, court clerk Elaine E. Osborne said. But instead, workers laid the same mauve carpeting that is in the new courtrooms. The library and the lounge have been recarpeted, she said.

"We wanted a change of pace when you take an employee from a work atmosphere into a lounge," Osborne said. "They just had all this mauve carpeting and they kept laying it down."

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