Broward’s old main courthouse almost empty as moves near end

Time is running out for the mold-plagued building that served as Broward County’s main courthouse for the past 55 years.

The former main entrance to the county’s judicial complex closed at the beginning of May. The remaining judges and courts still holding session in the 10-story structure will relocate to the new courthouse building at Southeast Sixth Street and First Avenue on May 15.

“At this point, the transition is just about complete,” Court Administrator Kathleen Pugh said.

The last to leave are the first appearance, domestic violence, county criminal and dependency courts, which had their move delayed while changes were completed and security concerns addressed in their new courthouse space.

“It’s a ghost town over there,” Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said of the former main courthouse.

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The 1962 building itself will be demolished and replaced by a public plaza and a 500-space secure parking garage, some of the last projects in the county’s $345.6 million judicial complex overhaul. The construction was prompted in part by employee lawsuits that said they were being sickened by exposure to asbestos and toxic mold in the main courthouse building.

Demolition isn’t expected to be completed until 2018 and no start date for the task has been set yet, Assistant County Administrator Alphonso Jefferson said. The county first will salvage furniture or property from the building. It will then undergo asbestos removal before demolition, Jefferson said.

The changes have left two ways for visitors to get into the courthouse complex. There’s the main entrance to the new, 20-story courthouse building Southeast Sixth Street. Also, courthouse patrons parking in the juror parking garage on Southeast Third Avenue can use the third-floor walkway that connects to the complex. From that entrance, there are passageways to the courthouse’s east and north wings, which were built in the early 1990s, and the new main courthouse building.

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One difference Weekes has already noticed that’s a plus for people having business at the new courthouse: The time it takes to get through security.

“It seems to be a much shorter wait to come into the new courthouse,” Weekes said. “It’s a much larger entry point.”

Another project on track for completion in the fall is renovation of the mid-rise office building on the northeast corner of Southeast Sixth Street and Third Avenue, adjacent to the juror parking garage.

The building has renovated space on the first floor being used for probation services and upper floors are being renovated to provide additional space for the State Attorney and Public Defender offices, to replace leased space they are currently using.

Renovation work also is planned for the east wing building that houses parts of the State Attorney’s Office.

“There are offsite locations being prepared for temporary moves so that the east wing of the courthouse can be renovated. The dates and times are not finalized,” State Attorney spokeswoman Kristin Grimm said.