Secure design: Court House gets makeover


After nearly 30 years, the Federal Court House on the corner of McIntire Road and Water Street is finally getting a makeover. But to long-time residents, the new look– no more trees and an array of bollards along the sidewalks– might come as a shock.

The tree-lined approach was one of those unassuming visual landmarks people never think of until it's gone. But why the bollards, and why did they have to take down those Bradford pears? Think Timothy McVeigh.

McVeigh is the guy who exploded a truckload of fertilizer in front of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and prompted the federal government to change its design regulations. Although it's hard to imagine someone attempting to blow up the Federal Court House in Charlottesville, it was probably hard to image 168 deaths in the heartland 11 years ago.

New design regulations after 9/11 called for more security measures. In Richmond, for example, the new Federal Courts Building on Broad Street is purposely set back away from the street.

On Water street, in addition to the security measures, the entire building is being upgraded to improve fire safety and handicap-accessibility, as well as to give agencies with offices in the building a little more space. According to GSA officials, the renovations should be wrapped up by October.

According to Dave Puckett of FPW Architects, the firm in charge of the local re-design, the big Bradford pears were not removed for security reasons.

"They were over-mature," says Puckett. "Their aggressive root systems were cracking the sidewalks and even damaging some of the underground utilities." As part of the new design, Puckett says, six red oaks will be planted along the sidewalk.

Of course, with all those imposing steel bollards, the new front yard of the Federal Court House looks to be the antithesis of the free speech wall. ( See On Architecture, page 24.) Maybe it's a Zen thing, all about balance: security on one end of the Mall, free expression on the other.

The Federal Court House gets a security make-over.