Joint Courts Complex Will Start to Take Shape this Fall

August 30, 2012

By Teya Vitu

The seven-story steel frame for the new Joint Courts Complex should start taking shape in the days immediately following Labor Day.

By the end of the year, a completed steel skeleton should tower over the 4.3-acre vacant triangle behind Chicanos por la Causa that is bounded by Stone and Toole avenues.

“Over the course of two years the Toole Ave./Stone corridor has been transformed from vacant, delapidated warehouses and a weed-filled vacant lot to a thriving arts and commercial district,” said Michael Keith, CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership. “Like everything that is happening Downtown, the transformation is amazing.”

“The scale will be about the same height as the new UniSource tower,” Reid Spaulding, Pima County Facilities Manager, said of the Joint Courts Complex.

The steel structure is the second phase of construction that will bring the Joint Courts Complex out of the big hole that was dug at the start of May.

Since May, the focus for Sundt Construction has been on underground foundation work.

That started with pouring a 5-foot thick matt foundation at the bottom that entailed 30,000 cubic yards of concrete. Fifteen to 18 inches of dirt was layered on top of the matt foundation and the plumbing lines were embedded in the dirt. Then a 6-inch think basement slab was poured on the dirt, Spaulding said.

The summer work also involved pouring the 8-to-12-inch think basement walls.

The two-level basement will have detention cells and two court rooms, one for arraignments and one for high-volume “catch and release” defendants. The basement will also have the heating and cooling system and other utilities, Spaulding said.

Once the steel frame is in place, 2013 will see the structure get enclosed.

“There will be artistic glass in the south face,” Spaulding said.

The $48 million shell building should be complete by Fall 2013. What happens after that, however, is a big question mark.

Neither Pima County nor City of Tucson have committed any funding toward the estimated $25 million in tenant improvements. The County decided to move ahead with shell construction to take advantage of the lower construction costs during the economic downturn.

“Ideally, we would move right into tenant improvements, but we don’t have the bond funding,” Spaulding said.

He is currently in discussions with the City on timing and funding the City’s share tenant improvements. The County may or may not pursue another bond. The Joint Courts Complex was initially funded with a $74 million 2004 Pima County bond but that funding has been depleted.

The Joint Courts Complex will eventually bring the largest structure that has ever stood a that north edge of Downtown.

Previously, two buildings stood on that site. One, originating in about 1930, comprised four structures and last housed Coconuts Night Club, 296 N. Stone. The other was a job center at 240 N. Stone, also originating about 1930 as two structures: Boyer Motor Co. and the Old Pueblo Bowling and Billiard Parlor.

That triangle also had stubs of Council Street and Grossetta Avenue, which were abandoned and then removed in 2005. The project also entailed discreetly removing nearly 1,400 graves from a forgotten 19th century cemetery from November 2006 to August 2008.

But construction was put on hold at that time in 2008 when projected costs ballooned from the $74 million funded by a 2004 Pima County bond to $140 million.

The county went back to the drawing board and downscaled the city-county courthouse from 410,000 square feet to 256,000 square feet – but with the potential to expand if population growth warrants it.