New Kapolei courthouse opens this month to serve 'second city'
• Photo gallery: Kapolei Court Complex
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
Following two decades of planning and a cost of $133.5 million, the long-awaited and sometimes controversial Kapolei Court Complex will open by the end of the month.
The complex will house the Wai'anae District Court, the First Circuit Family Court and the Juvenile Detention Center.
The court complex will replace overcrowded or aging facilities downtown and in Mā'ili, and is part of the shift of government services to Kapolei. The nearly 600 added jobs will help solidify Kapolei as O'ahu's second city, as originally planned in the 1970s.
Critics of the move to Kapolei say it will place an unfair burden on those who live close to Honolulu, 30 miles to the east.
However, the three adult criminal divisions of Family Court on Alakea Street will remain in Honolulu, and a presiding judge will be available in Honolulu to sign emergency orders, according to a Judiciary news release.
Furthermore, through the Kapolei courtrooms' elaborate videoconferencing technology, it's possible to have attorneys and witnesses in Honolulu testify at hearings taking place before a judge in Kapolei.
The complex was first designed to be about twice the size and contain eight jury and a dozen nonjury courtrooms. The finished structure was downsized to only one jury courtroom because of budget constraints .
The four-story, 123,000-square-foot building — last of the major government facilities for the new city of Kapolei — will serve an estimated 4,000 people weekly, and employ 289 people. In all, it is expected to bring as many as 600 jobs into the Kapolei area.
"The services available in this building start with the Wai'anae District Court," said Christina Uebelein, Kapolei courthouse project manager for the state Judiciary.
The Wai'anae District Court, now in a former bowling alley in Mā'ili, is scheduled to open in the new facility on March 22. It will handle such cases as misdemeanor criminal offenses, traffic citations, and court criminal fines.
"Secondly, is the First Circuit Family Court," Uebelein continued. "The vast majority of the Family Court judges and staff will be present in this building. Those Family Court cases presently held on the second floor of the Punchbowl building will in the future be held here in Kapolei."
The nonjury Family Court deals with everything from child custody and divorce cases to domestic violence and temporary restraining orders.
Meanwhile, the new Juvenile Detention Center is already in operation. The first administrative hearing in that facility was held on Feb. 29. The children were moved from the previous center location on Alder Street two days before that.
The detention facility — which has 66 beds, a Department of Education classroom, a wood shop, computer lab, arts and crafts room, outdoor recreation area, and a medical unit — employs a total of 79 people working three around-the-clock shifts.
The number of children at the secure facility varies from day to day, but currently it has around two dozen boys and six girls. The open, unsecure Alder Street facility will be renovated and continue as part of the continuum of services provided juveniles.
The Kapolei Court Complex was two decades in the planning, and, according to Uebelein, the District Courtroom is the most technically advanced courtroom in the state.
Wall monitors let those in attendance see exactly what the judge, jury, attorneys and witnesses see being presented as evidence.
Courtrooms within the complex employ the Jefferson Audio Video System, or JAVS, an advanced courtroom program that provides cameras, microphones and servers that enable any visual or auditory event in the courtroom to be recorded digitally.
There are multiple backup systems that ensure no court records can be lost in the event of an electrical outage or system glitch.
The building itself is designed to independently accommodate the public, the judges and staff, and those in custody through a secure, three-part circulation system, said David Bylund, project designer with Architects Hawaii Ltd.
"Every decision that we made throughout this design together, we kept coming back to the balance between the seriousness of the institution and the openness and accessibility of ... this place," Bylund said.
To give the facility a sense of calm while maintaining its sense of seriousness and respect, numerous concepts were employed. Daylight was incorporated to a large extent so that courtrooms appear bright and naturally illuminated. Circular ceiling lighting is used throughout the courthouse as "a gentle reminder of the Hawaiian custom of ho'oponopono — righting a wrong through group effort," Bylund said.
Mock courtrooms were created so that judges and lawyers and clerks could offer practical suggestions and changes. Local groups were consulted for ideas on ways the complex could reflect a sense of the community. The State of Hawaii Foundation on Culture and the Arts hosted a limited competition to commission local artists to create art that could be included in the design.
Artist Doug Young created five multistory stained glass windows inspired by area ocean wave patterns. Sculptor Leland Miyano used Wai'anae boulders to sculpt courtyard stone pieces that suggest the dualistic nature of Hawaiian cosmology. And AHL-designed reliefs embedded in the building's exterior reflect elements of the ahupua'a, the ancient Hawaiian system of land sustainability.
"The art and the building will serve as a symbol for the Judiciary and a source of pride for the people of Kapolei," Bylund said.