Court conundrum

Master plan identifies eight options for St. John's courts

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on June 18, 2010
Top left, the former Grace Hospital site on LeMarchant Road. The former Holloway School is now a parking lot between Harvey Road and Long's Hill. Bottom left, the former Horwood Lumber site on lower Springdale Street. A block of buildings known as Baird property across from Surpeme Court on Water Street. - Photos by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

A master plan prepared for the provincial government lists eight potential options for the future of the St. John's courts, The Telegram has learned.

Proposed properties include the former Grace Hospital site on LeMarchant Road, the former Holloway School site between Long's Hill and Harvey Road, the former Horwood Lumber site on lower Springdale Street, a property on Bell Street almost across from Supreme Court on Duckworth Street and the block known as the Baird property across from Supreme Court on Water Street.

A master plan prepared for the provincial government lists eight potential options for the future of the St. John's courts, The Telegram has learned.

Proposed properties include the former Grace Hospital site on LeMarchant Road, the former Holloway School site between Long's Hill and Harvey Road, the former Horwood Lumber site on lower Springdale Street, a property on Bell Street almost across from Supreme Court on Duckworth Street and the block known as the Baird property across from Supreme Court on Water Street.

The master plan was prepared by the BAE-Newplan Group Ltd. and obtained by The Telegram through access to information.

A breakdown of the cost of the various options was blacked out in the documents obtained by The Telegram.

The courts are currently spread out over a number of locations, including Supreme Court on Duckworth and Water streets. The Sheriff's Office and the Court of Appeal are also on Duckworth. Provincial court rents space in Atlantic Place on Water Street and Unified Family Court is on King's Bridge Road.

Rent for Atlantic Place - which includes space for victim services, provincial court, fines, probation, special prosecutions and Crown attorneys - is $1.4 million for the fiscal year ending March 2011. Logistical problems with installing security and technology and a lack of space have plagued the system for years.

Supreme Court opened in 1904. There's little meeting space for lawyers and clients and the courtrooms have awful acoustics.

The crammed Court of Appeal has no public washroom.

Among future priorities is the preservation of the historic image of Supreme Court as part of an active court system - most likely as the new home of the Court of Appeal and a possible federal court/tribunal hearing suite.

A downtown site is also considered a major objective, and parking is cited as a stumbling block at nearly all sites but LeMarchant Road.

No site was singled out.

Option 1

The Bell Street property, once considered for a hotel, includes the former Heritage Cafe Building. It borders on Church Hill and backs onto Henry Street. Both 344 Duckworth and 3-9 Church Hill are potential acquisitions.

Pros: It's close to Supreme Court and could be linked to it via a skywalk to the Sheriff's Office; upper floors offer stunning views; and it is in a reduced parking requirement zone.

Cons: Further expansion is uncertain; staff and visitor parking is a serious problem.

Option 2

The Baird property consists of the full block along Cliff's Cove-Baird's Cove between Water Street and Harbour Drive. This option would include acquiring Nos. 173, 171 and 169 Water Street and removing those structures.

Pros: Great views and downtown location; potential for "dramatic new courthouse construction" defining a "high-profile court precinct."

Cons: Height restriction would require the acquisition of considerable adjoining property; busy traffic area; parking and flooding issues.

Option 3

Another option uses both the Bell Street and Baird properties.

Provincial court would move to the Baird site and Supreme to Bell Street, which would be linked by skywalk to the current Supreme Court.

Pros: Downtown location, close to Supreme Court; some underground parking possible; potential to expand if adjoining properties are available; views of Narrows and Signal Hill.

Cons: Courts would not be consolidated; separate parking facility needed for staff and visitors.

Option 4

The Holloway Street site, once considered a site for condos in the oil bust of the 1980s, is being used as a parking lot.

Pros: commanding views; major consolidation of courts for the downtown; could accommodate all court support functions; landscaping might tie in with The Rooms.

Cons: Significantly removed from Supreme Court; would require large-scale parking facility due to city bylaws, which is not possible without acquiring more property.

Option 5

The former Horwood Lumber site is on lower Springdale Street bordering on New Gower.

Pros: downtown location; closeness of legal community; good views; potential to acquire other property.

Cons: no pedestrian link to Supreme Court possible; unable to consolidate all courts; extra facility required for parking; traffic issues on Water Street would be compounded.

Option 6

The old hospital on the Grace site was levelled and cleaned up. The former nurses' residence remains but would be torn down for parking, should that site be chosen for a new courthouse.

Pros: no restrictions on consolidation of courts.

Cons: It's not downtown; views are less desirable.

Option 7

Another option preserves only the facades of the old Newfoundland Museum and Court of Appeal buildings to front a new structure, which will include Unified Family Court - trial courts.

It would see properties alongside Supreme Court, including the High Sheriff's Office, demolished.

Pros: Brings Unified Family Court downtown.

Cons: Parking shortage; less opportunity for future expansion.

Option 8

The second option along the same vein would have the old Newfoundland Museum building remain intact, but only the facade of the Court of Appeal would remain, allowing small claims and traffic courts to move there.

Pros: elimination of poorly constructed buildings alongside Supreme would allow for landscaping and public space; the museum building would house Family Justice Services and possibly other offices such as the High Sheriff's Office.

Con: Lack of parking.

The master plan considers court requirements up to 2031.

Justice Minister Felix Collins was not available for comment Thursday, but via e-mail he said Justice is reviewing the master plan.

"We are committed as a government to providing the most effective and efficient court system possible," he said.

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