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Court Creates Order With AV

THE NEWLY-ERECTED courthouse at 320 Jay Street in Brooklyn, NY, occupies 25 floors of a new 32-story, 1.1 million-square-foot office tower. The $670 million building's modern architecture designed by Perkins Eastman Architects belies the fact that it houses the state's largest number of courtrooms in a single facility.

The lobby of the Jay Street Courthouse in Brooklyn, NY, features a traditional building directory as well as an LCD display listing the day's court cases and locations.

The lobby of the Jay Street Courthouse in Brooklyn, NY, features a traditional building directory as well as an LCD display listing the day's court cases and locations.

CHALLENGE: Design and install complete AV systems in 84 courtrooms in New York's newly-built Jay Street Courthouse.

SOLUTION: Plan and execute detailed design specifications that address users' needs and future capabilities.

THE NEWLY-ERECTED courthouse at 320 Jay Street in Brooklyn, NY, occupies 25 floors of a new 32-story, 1.1 million-square-foot office tower. The $670 million building's modern architecture designed by Perkins Eastman Architects belies the fact that it houses the state's largest number of courtrooms in a single facility. A total of 84 courtrooms are used for the New York State Supreme Court (50) and the Kings County Family Court (34).

The Jay Street Courthouse is a new experience for each court, considering the Supreme Court staffers relocated there from two separate sites, and the Family Court also brought along a number of victims' services and children's agencies that now have office space throughout the building. None of the previous facilities had any permanent AV, and in most cases, AV capabilities didn't extend beyond a TV/VCR cart.

According to the state's website, the new courthouse has a 750-person jury assembly room where potential jurors can surf the Internet while waiting, a 300-person detention facility where prisoners are brought in through a secure underground tunnel, and an internal cell block that holds 250 prisoners, thus reducing the Department of Correction's number of individual bus trips.

Also unique to the project was its funding, made possible by a public-private partnership between New York and real estate developer Forest City Ratner. AV consultant Maik Nitzschke of Cerami & Associates Inc. worked with Felix Robinson and Lou Ciccone of Columbia, MD-based design-build firm SPL Integrated Solutions to create the AV systems for each type of courtroom.

Long road ahead

As with many large-scale construction AV installs, this project didn't happen quickly. In fact, the design process began in early 2000 when Cerami & Associates was brought in by the architects. Designing a system for 84 courtrooms was a major undertaking. “We achieved our design goals by conducting interviews with the Supreme and Family Courts and different agencies to come up with a program based on their individual usage and needs,” Nitzschke says.

That also meant defining key differences between the two types of courtrooms. Family court proceedings rely on audio recordings rather than court reporters. However, the Supreme Court uses court reporters as well as video annotation software. The Supreme Court also tends to have higher profile cases that require higher quality cameras for outbound media feeds.

In 2001, SPL's New York regional office joined the team after winning the bid right after construction began. Over the course of the project, SPL worked with AV contracts totaling more than $10 million. “Coordination begins before the first brick is laid,” says Robinson, vice president and general manager of SPL's New York office. “SPL does a lot of government work, so we have experience we can apply to a project of this size. A government client presents challenges to the integrator, from procurement laws to unique usage. In this case, you must understand the mechanics of a government courtroom.”

Part of that knowledge means understanding that the judge rules the courtroom, and that each judge has his or her own personal preferences. As a result, all 84 courtrooms were designed as basic AV systems that operate independently of one another, but include a common control system. Each courtroom is equipped with one to three Crestron CT-1000 or TPS-5000 touchscreens, totaling 175 in all. “Crestron was our one main control program,” says Ciccone, who helped complete the installation, control the quality of the programming, and assist in the staff training and transition from the old courthouse. “We created a library of modules in the programming, and each room took parts of it for customization to specific needs. For each type of courtroom, the programmer added or deleted the appropriate modules.”

For ease of use and maintenance, several aspects of the AV were standardized. All floor boxes in each courtroom are the same, and only two types of projector lifts were used.

Supreme Court upfront courtrooms

While the New York Supreme Court's other courtrooms may host high-profile cases, it's the upfront courtrooms that see the most daily traffic. The upfront dockets are packed with back-to-back proceedings for defendants and their attorneys to answer charges and enter pleas. On average, these proceedings last only 2 or 3 minutes each.

The upfront courtrooms are outfitted with Shure MX418D or MX418E gooseneck microphones and one Audio-Technica AT847R microphone for sidebar conferences. The court reporter dons a set of Stanton 101HB headphones to clearly hear the conversations. Six TOA F101-CM loudspeakers are powered by a TOA A-912MK2 amplifier, with mixing duties split between a Lectrosonics AM8/4 8x4 automatic matrix mixer, Lectrosonics AM1612 16x12 automatic microphone mixers, and a Lectrosonics MM8 12x8 audio matrix mixer.

The video system serves two purposes in these courtrooms. To address the primary presentation need, the team installed a Sanyo PLC-XP21N LCD projector and an 84-inch diagonal Da-Lite 4:3 projection screen, which was mounted using a Draper Revelation mounting system. The system is also used to accommodate video appearances of defendants being held at Riker's Island. “Appearing in person would involve a 30- to 40-minute bus ride, sitting in a holding cell all day to appear in front of the judge, and waiting again for the bus to take you back at the end of the day,” says Roger Elliott, who oversees all AV and IT for the Kings County Supreme Court. “To save time and to reduce the number of buses coming into the city, they designed a video booth at Riker's.”

In the booth, the defendant sees a quad screen showing his or her family, the judge, and each attorney. In the courtroom, four Sony DXC-390 video cameras capture these images. An Extron CVDA 6 MX quad distribution amplifier handles distribution, while an Extron MAV1616 matrix switcher and an Extron Crosspoint 84HV RGBHV matrix switcher provide video switching capabilities. In the courtroom, two Pioneer PDP-V402 42-inch plasma displays on articulating mounting arms display video for the audience, and can also rotate toward the judge's bench for special applications.

“A private attorney/client phone is also hooked into the AV system,” Elliott says. “When the attorney picks it up, the system is automatically muted. This also allows the defendant to talk to his or her family in private after the proceeding.”

Each room also has its own equipment rack with components installed in a Middle Atlantic ERK 4420 equipment rack.

Technology meets flexibility

In the early design stage, the team decided to use converters and Cat5 cable rather than coaxial cable to reduce the size of the floor boxes and conduit. “Most of the Cat5 cables are connected to the racks via patch panel, which gives the AV systems a great deal of flexibility,” Nitzschke says.

A pioneer PDP-V402 display and a Draper RPS screen are used for evidence presentation in one of the New York State Supreme Court's ceremonial courtrooms.

A pioneer PDP-V402 display and a Draper RPS screen are used for evidence presentation in one of the New York State Supreme Court's ceremonial courtrooms.

To find the right converters, SPL set up a mock laboratory in its 20,000-square-foot New York facility to recreate the building's exact environment. That meant using lengths of Cat5 cable equal to the cable runs present in the building, which ran as long as 1,000 feet. SPL then brought in manufacturers who had competitive products to test the capabilities in a real environment.

Magenta Research's Multiview RGBHV-to-Cat5 transmitters and receivers and Kramer's video and video/stereo audio-to-Cat5 interfaces came out on top. “Cat5 cable also offers them future expandability for services like audio- or videoconferencing,” Ciccone says. “In terms of maintenance, you can get that type of cable anywhere in a pinch.”

Cross connects from all courtrooms go to a media room on the 14th floor. Flexibility is the key element in providing intercom, audio, auxiliary Cat5 cables for other possible applications, and professional-grade coaxial video that enables broadcast crews to get high-quality video signals. This is offered for any high-profile cases that garner news coverage. A fiber line also runs down to the loading dock for satellite trucks.

After five years of planning, construction, and AV integration, the Jay Street Courthouse officially opened for business in June 2005. “Every courtroom has infrastructure built-in for today and the future,” Nitzschke says. “The biggest challenge was the duration of the project considering the rapid developing AV technology sector and the always changing players.”

Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance writer and PR specialist for the professional AV industry. She can be reached at linda@frembes.com.

 


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