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A Philadelphia suburb sees its future in a municipal campus with an expanded courthouse

Versions of this civic project have been in the works since at least 2015.

June 15, 2021 |
A new Justice Center will be attached to the existing courthouse

Montgomery County is building a new Justice Center (right), that will be connected to the 119-year-old courthouse in Norristown, Pa. Images: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Ground broke today on the largest project that Montgomery County in Pennsylvania has undertaken to date: a 508,150-sf campus in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, Pa., that, when completed in 2026, will include the construction of the 330,000-sf, six-story Montgomery County Justice Center.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Skanska are the design and construction partners on this $415 million project, which was approved last September by the Norristown Municipal Council. According to local reports, the existing courthouse was originally to be renovated at a budget of $281 million. And the more expensive construction contract had met with some political opposition.

Also see: A new county courthouse opens in Olathe, Kan.

But other municipal leaders see this bolder project as being transformative for the city and the community. “The Justice Center represents years of planning to design a state-of-the-art facility that will meet the County’s needs for the next century and make all justice-related services more accessible to our residents,” stated Dr. Valerie A. Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Also see: Designs for federal courthouse in Alabama unveiled



A rendering of the Justice Center, showing its access to Norristown's Main Street

SOM has designed the new Justice Center with new public spaces and access to the city's main thoroughfares.


The project has three components:

•The new Justice Center construction, which is targeting LEED Gold certification. That building, which will be attached to the existing courthouse, will have 18 courtrooms, offices, and public spaces. Its cladding is primarily fritted glass with a marble pattern, a nod to the building’s historic neighbor and a contemporary take on the Pennsylvania “King of Prussia” Blue Marble quarried in Montgomery County.

•The expansion of Hancock Square Park to 57,000 sf, from its current size of 23,000 sf. (The project’s landscape architect is GGN.) That expansion will feature native landscape plantings, and direct access to Norristown’s Main Street.

•The historic courthouse, which was built in 1856 and expanded in 1902 (its dome), 1930 (its annex), and 1970, will undergo a complete renovation, with attention paid to historic preservation and a full replacement of utility infrastructure. A new glazed atrium links the existing and new buildings, creating a bright and welcoming entrance to the complex while emphasizing both the rich past and promising future of Montgomery County.



A rendering of Hancock Square Park in front of the existing courthouse

This project will more than double the size of Hancock Square Park.

Collectively, the project’s sustainability features will realize a 26% energy use reduction over ASHRAE 90.1 2013, a 40% indoor water use reduction, and a 50% irrigation reduction, according to SOM. (Interface Engineering is this project’s engineer.)

Skanska Integrated Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of the giant general contractor, is the project’s Agency Construction Manager, and is overseeing its planning, design, and construction. SOM’s design of the Justice Center will create new public spaces and connections within the complex and the surrounding streets.

The Justice Center will “restore a county landmark, and introduce a bold new building that speaks to the county's bright future,” says SOM’s Design Partner Colin Koop. Both he and Skanska Vice President and Regional Director Christopher Anderson see this project as part of a downtown revitalization.

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