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What You Won't See in the New Denver Justice Center

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This month, the Denver Justice Center will open its doors. On the East side of Tooley Plaza stands the 1,500 bed Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center clad in shot sawn Indiana limestone designed to match the US Mint. The pillared entry emblazoned with the City Seal resembles a library or civic office building much more than what we think of for a detention facility.
The new 35 courtroom Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse is positioned on the west side of the plaza. Destined to instantly become one of Denver's defining buildings, the courthouse opens to the east with four stories of faceted glass exterior and Alabama limestone echoing the tones of the City and County Building. The west entrance to the courthouse also invites with modern shades and an intentional entrance befitting the weight of the building's purpose.

Indeed, what you will see from outside the buildings is impressive, but what you don't see is even more admirable. Gone from street level will be the numerous buses carting detainees back and forth from the County Jail at Smith Road at the cost of half a million dollars a year. Instead a limited number of buses will enter the detention facility itself to load and unload detainees, but most detainees will be housed downtown as they traverse the court system, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Gone from City Hall will be the numerous defendants shuffling in handcuffs and manacles through the same hallways as tourists, Council members, judges and jurors. Instead, a tunnel connects the buildings, providing a more secure, humane and efficient manner of transporting defendants.

Outside each building you will see a plaque denoting individuals and companies involved in the project. These markers will bear witness to the great talent we brought together from outside the city as well as from across Denver. They serve as a reminder that we have some of the best architectural and construction companies right here in Colorado.

What you won't see, however, are the names of the many individuals that aided the project and remain nameless but not forgotten; the City employees who helped with everything from land acquisition and land use planning to contract negotiations, citizen volunteers on our numerous committees, and those that advocated for better family visitation areas or more environmentally sound features. To these individuals belongs the sense of accomplishment in selfless service to the civic fabric.

And while you enjoy the aesthetic of the limestone buildings, you won't see the years of advocacy by the Golden Triangle Association and its residents. They agreed to allow a new justice center to be built in their front yard, but only if the buildings solved the security problems in City Hall, ended the practice of parking detainee buses at street level and only if construction of the buildings was complete with architectural significance. As my friends Peter Park (Denver's City Planner) and David Tryba (Tryba Architects and Master Planner on the project) would say, it's only great architecture if it meets all three Vetruvian ideals of Commodity, Strength and Delight. I hope that the Golden Triangle Association and Denver's history books will find our team successful in reaching these objectives.

This project would never have come to fruition without the affirmative bond vote as a result of public trust in Denver's justice system. While we have much room to improve especially in areas of recidivism reduction, rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abusers, and job training while incarcerated, Denver is graced with one of the best court systems and Sheriff's Departments in the country. It is only fitting that we now have the best facilities in the country to match their efforts.

James Mejía was the founding Project Manager for the Denver Justice Center. He currently serves as CEO of the Denver Preschool Program to ensure that Denver citizens never see the insides of these facilities.