Kent Courthouse Stays Lit 24-7

December 19, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Though the Kent County Hall of Justice appears ablaze with lights around the clock, about 90 percent of the courthouse’s lights are actually shut off between midnight and 6 a.m. 

The 24,000-square-foot, 12-story building at the corner of Ottawa Avenue and Lyon Street has been home to all courtroom proceedings for Kent County since it opened in September 2001. 

Some 350 county employees work at the courthouse, and between 3,000 and 7,000 people visit the building daily, depending on courthouse activities, according to Bob Mihos, director of facilities planning and management.

The Christmas tree effect begins dimming around 5 p.m., as operations close down and lights go off in the judges’ suites and the courtrooms, said Operations Supervisor Chuck Dubridge

The cleaning crew, however, is in the building until about 11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m., he said, so lights in all other parts of the building are shut off as cleaning is completed.

There’s also a guard on duty until midnight, which is the official cut-off time for the lighting system.

The courthouse’s front lobby is on a lighting timer that automatically turns lights on at 6 a.m. and off at 11:30 p.m. Dubridge noted that some emergency lights are kept on 24 hours a day for security purposes.

“Even though there’s nobody here for six hours, in the event that there were a fire or emergency or somebody had to respond, they wouldn’t have to attempt to get lighting on,” he explained.

“Those security lights are also on emergency power, so if there were a power failure, those lights would maintain lights throughout the facility so that we could evacuate or whatever the case may be.”

Heating and cooling systems at the courthouse go in to a setback mode by about 11.30 p.m., as well. Dubridge said the system kicks up again at 6 a.m. so the building is at the proper temperature when the courthouse opens at 8 a.m.

“In the summertime, the air is sometimes on 24 hours a day because it’s more economical to maintain the temperature than it is to try to cool the building after a hot summer night,” he added.

The building relies basically on electricity and steam for its power. Which utility is most costly month to month depends on the season, Mihos said.

The electricity bill is higher in the summer than it is in the winter and, conversely, the facility’s steam bill is higher in the winter than in the summer, he said. 

“We have steam through the steam loop that the Kent County Department of Public Works operates through the city, and we purchase steam through that for our heating.”

Mihos said the courthouse’s electric bill is approximately $315,000 a year and the annual steam bill is approximately the same.

He said to his knowledge, the county doesn’t get a discount on utility rates.

“The rate structure is based on what the utilization of the particular function of the building is and the amount of utilities that we use.”

Mihos pointed out that a number of energy saving features were built into the courthouse, including energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems. The roofing, double-paned glass and other building materials that went into construction of the courthouse were selected for their energy-efficient qualities, as well, he said.

Seven of the courthouse’s floors are dedicated to judicial chambers, courtrooms and hearing rooms that serve the Circuit, Family, Probate and 61st District courts.

In addition to the courts, the facility houses Circuit Court administration, probation and services, 61st District administration, and Prosecuting Attorney, County Corrections, County Clerk and Friend of the Court offices, as well as Probate Register.    

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