NORTH TONAWANDA – City Court is getting a makeover. And court officials are convinced that it will make a difference in the way people feel about their dealings with the legal system.
The monthlong, state-funded project, which will cost about $45,000 to $48,000, should be completed by the end of this month or early in June. It is expected to give the courtroom both a new look and a new feel.
The hope is that it will command more respect from those who appear in the courtroom, said Andrew B. Isenberg, executive for the state’s Eighth Judicial District, who oversees court operations in Western New York.
He said the look of a courtroom does make a difference.
“I’ve been involved in a number of courtroom renovations in the Eighth Judicial District, and the judges and court staff regularly tell me that they cannot begin to articulate how much it changes the way the public interacts with the court,” Isenberg said. “Any lack of respect for the law can ultimately lead to chaos.”
Isenberg pointed out that it has been “decades since there has been any work done” on courtroom aesthetics. “I would say it has more of ’50s or ’60s feel.”
He said court officials felt that it was time to take a fresh look at the facility in an effort to upgrade and update the courtroom and back office. “The city was willing to work cooperatively with the state court system and, fortunately, the state court system was able to find some funding to pay for these updates,” he said.
Mayor Robert G. Ortt said that the city has fronted the money for the project and that city workers are involved. Any costs for upgrades, he said, will be reimbursed by the state. Ortt said the courtroom is expected to match the design of Common Council Chambers.
The mayor said both rooms at the court really had a dated look but that Council Chambers were updated several years ago. “Now they will have a similar look and similar feel,” he said.
While work is under way, all courtroom proceedings have been moved next door to Council Chambers.
Ortt said the temporary move has not been an inconvenience. Staff meetings have been moved to a different part of the building, he said.
Isenberg said that it made sense to try to match the look and feel of Council Chambers. He said that it was cost-prohibitive to remove the judge’s bench and that there would only be minor changes to the jury box. But the paneling is coming down, walls are being painted and new carpeting is going in, he said, including in a back office where carpeting had become a tripping hazard. The wooden chairs and Council tables also are being replaced, he said.
Chief Court Clerk Jennifer A. Steele said, “It already looks better with paint on the wall instead of paneling. It’s definitely an improvement.”
Isenberg said they hope when the renovations are completed, North Tonawanda residents and others who interact with the court will “do so in a setting that is proper to promote decorum and respect.”
“We appreciate the help of the city,” he said, “to make this happen.”