HANFORD — State officials are shelling out thousands of dollars to rebuild the plaza outside the new Kings County Courthouse following ongoing issues with distracted visitors tripping on the stairs.
Court Executive Officer Jeff Lewis said construction began Jan. 30 to demolish the existing stairs leading to the entrance on the building’s west side. Lewis said the old steps caused problems for some people visiting the courthouse.
“The contrast [between steps] wasn’t enough for people, especially coming down,” Lewis said. “We had a number of people who were tripping and falling.”
When the four-story, 144,000-square-foot courthouse opened on Feb. 16, 2016, the steps had black stripes to make the edges more visible. After the tripping hazard became apparent, court officials added bright yellow stripes along the edges.
Lewis said the problem continued, especially among visitors who were distracted by their cellphones, prompting the addition of several “Caution” signs depicting a person climbing stairs.
When the yellow stripes and signs didn’t work, court officials went back to the DLR Group, the architecture and engineering firm that designed the courthouse, to come up with a solution.
Jon Anderson, the primary architect who worked on the courthouse, said the new design will replace the long-tread steps with a set of standard-sized stairs closer to the entrance, along with new railings and planter boxes.
Anderson said he doesn’t believe the new design will harm the overall aesthetics of the courthouse design.
“It’ll fit in,” Anderson said. “It won’t be making the kind of grand statement we were hoping to make, but it’s a minor change.”
Blaine Corren, a spokesman for the Judicial Council of California, said the project will cost about $300,000 including labor, materials and equipment. Funding for the project will come from the original Senate Bill 1407 funds that paid for the construction of the courthouse. Corren said the courthouse came in about $3.5 million under budget.
According to the council, the courthouse had an authorized budget of about $124 million.
Anderson said long-tread steps are commonly used to create a “grand procession” effect leading up to the front door. Although the DLR group has designed numerous public facilities with the same type of steps, Anderson said the company has not received any other complaints.
“If you’re watching where you’re going, I don’t think it’s a problem,” Anderson said.
Hanford attorney Bob Dowd, of Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Dowd & Gin, said he’s heard several people complain about the steps after they tripped or lost their balance.
“I personally was not challenged by the steps,” Dowd said.
Anderson said architects have increasingly seen their designs clash with distracted pedestrians with the rise of text messaging and smartphones.
“We see that all the time, and I don’t know what we can do to fix it,” Anderson said.
Lewis said the new stairs at the Kings County courthouse should be completed by March 1. The work was originally expected to take three weeks but has been delayed by rain.