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9.2 General Requirements

Planning for Future Requirements
The master plan for each courthouse facility is intended to accommodate 30 years of growth and the design of the initial phase of construction must provide the spatial requirements for the first 10 years of this plan from the start of design.

The conversion of general office or other support spaces to courtroom use will potentially put greater demands on the HVAC, electrical, and communications systems. These systems will require expansion capacity and space provided for additional equipment related to the future courts in the initial building design. Historic courthouses require special considerations. For guidance on renovation of historic courthouses, see Chapter 13 of the U.S. Courts Design Guide. Permanent ramps should be installed in historic buildings, unless such ramps will result in substantial loss of historic material. Under exceptional conditions, an application for a waiver may be made for a temporary ramp.

Byron White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, CO

Byron White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, CO

Planning for AccessibilityAll U.S. Court facilities must be accessible to the physically disabled.

The detailed functional aspects of each courtroom component include an integrated reference to accessibility accommodation within the description of Courtroom Requirements in Chapter 4 of the USCDG.

The following information is intended only as a summary of the basic circulation; change in elevation; and spatial requirements to be addressed at each respective component with regard to accessibility for physically challenged individuals.

Design for accessibility should comply with the requirements of Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The more stringent requirement between UFAS and ADA will be adopted as part of design criteria. Please refer to Chapter 1 and Appendix 1.A. for information on general compliance issues and measures in Federal building planning and design.

It is GSA and judiciary policy that all Federal courtrooms have the lectern, counsel tables, the witness stand, and jury box accessible in the original design; and the judge’s bench, clerk’s station, and other court personnel workstations adaptable, regardless of local or state code.

In all areas of a building used by the public, Title II of the ADA requires a totally accessible interior path from point of entry to all public services. The design elements affected by this requirement consist of:

  • Vestibule configuration
  • Door sizes and pressure of operation
  • Corridor widths
  • Elevator access and control
  • Toilet room and stall dimensions
  • Telephone and TTY (text telephone) provisions
  • Drinking fountain location and dimensions
  • Visual and audible alarm accommodations
  • Signage design & location
  • Quantity of accessible seating
  • Ramps or lift access to all raised seating

Access to all raised areas in courtrooms require lifts or permanent ramps. If lifts are provided, lifts must be an integral part of the architecture of the courtroom. Bench areas will be designed to accommodate this equipment including structural slabs with a shallow pit for the lift platform.

U.S. Court facilities have several conditions that are unique to Federal building planning and design. These include provisions within the courtroom for fixed millwork to include elevated platforms for judges, witnesses, clerk staff, reporters, and jurors. In addition, design of spectator seating areas must consider physically challenged visitors including individuals with sight and hearing difficulties. (All areas of the Courtrooms must accommodate listening systems for the hearing impaired; and translators, note takers, interpreters for the visually disabled.)

Table 9-1 outlines the accessible standards that apply specifically to courts and highlight instances where policy or preferences developed by GSA, in conjunction with the Judicial Conference of the United States, differ from UFAS or the ADA. If an ADA standard takes priority or must be considered in addition to UFAS, it is noted accordingly by the designation (ADA). Adaptability requires that dimensional consideration has been included in the original design to incorporate accessible elements at a later time.Wherever ramps or lifts are provided for access to a raised area, railings must be provided as required.

Infrastructure Electrical outlets, wiring, conduit, or raceways to support sound and visual communication equipment for persons with disabilities shall be provided by GSA. Electrical service may be required for: transcription services, telephone handset amplifiers, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, text telephones (TTYs) or other devices to assist those with hearing or visual impairments.

Acoustic Planning Requirements
The Project Design Team will include an acoustic consultant who shall develop the appropriate information at each stage of the design process to assure the Courts and GSA that sound/vibration issues have been properly addressed.

The following is a list of NIC and STC ratings for privacy levels required in a courthouse:

List of NIC and STC ratings for privacy levels in a courthouse

Privacy Level NIC* STC
Inaudible 65 55
Confidential 50 50
Normal 40 45
Minimal 27 40
*Per USCDG Standards  

The STC ratings related to the Court’s environment fall into three categories. These categories are listed below along with some typical examples of interior partition construction that will provide the appropriate acoustic isolation:

STC ratings related to court's environment

STC of 40-45: One layer of 12.7mm (1/2”) gypsum wallboard on each side of steel studs to the underside of structure with acoustic sealant at top and bottom.
STC of 50: One layer of 15.9mm (5/8”) gypsum wallboard on each side of steel studs, plus an additional layer on one side, to the underside of structure with acoustic sealant at top and bottom. (Install 69.8mm (2-3/4”) glass fiber insulation in the wall cavity.)
STC of 55: One layer of 6.3mm (1/4”) and 15.9 (5/8”) gypsum wallboard on each side of steel studs to the underside of structure with acoustic sealant at top and bottom. (Install 69.8mm (2-3/4”) glass fiber insulation in the wall cavity.)

Refer to discussions on the acoustic criteria for each courthouse facility space described in the USCDG. (The finished space performance will be tested against these specific requirements.)

Table 9-1 Accessibility Requirements

Circulation Routes Clearance and turning radius for wheelchairs throughout the courtroom.
Public Seating Number of wheelchair spaces and location are set by UFAS and ADA.
Litigant Table Height clearance at table(s) and circulation space.
Jury Box One wheelchair space along the general circulation path at the box. (If located on a tier, provide a ramp or lift.)
Witness Stand Wheelchair turning radius clearance. Permanent ramp or lift to provide access. (Adjacent space is required for an interpreter.)
Judge’s Bench Comply with space and maneuvering requirements of ADA. Adaptable for future inclusion of ramp or lift. (Electrical service, space, and floor depression to be included in the initial design for lift.)
Courtroom Clerk Adaptable for future accommodation. (Raised level for clerk’s position may be served by a movable ramp.)
Lectern Include an adjustable platform with a height variation between 710mm and 760mm (28'' & 30'') above the floor. Knee space at least 685mm (27”) high. The lectern must be at least 760mm (30'') wide and 480mm (19'') deep.
Jury Assembly Room Located on publicly accessible route. Refer to UFAS/ADA for number of wheelchair accommodating spaces. ADA determines requirements for listening devices. Kitchen-type service units and associated refreshment areas.
Jury Deliberation Rooms One space at tables. Clearance provided at coat storage and dedicated toilet rooms. Portable assistive listening system may be used if there is more than one deliberation room. (Provided by Judiciary)
Witness Rooms
Attorney Rooms
Conference Rooms
Provide proper clearance for circulation and height at tables for wheelchairs.
Court Holding Areas Each classification of holding shall have one cell accommodating wheelchair clearances and an appropriate toilet plus lavatory.
Visitor Booths &
Attorney/Prisoner Areas
One but not less than 5% of booths/areas must provide turning radius and counter height dimensions for a wheelchair on both sides.

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