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Courthouse Performance Metrics: An Introduction

by Keith Fentress / July 22, 2015

I have written many posts about courthouse planning in the last year. From space allocation to courthouse design, we’ve explored these issues from a qualitative perspective. In today’s entry, I am going to shift gears and begin a series on courthouse design and planning from a quantitative perspective.

So, let’s begin at the beginning with the first of two basic questions: Why is it important to quantitatively measure a courthouse’s performance?


Measuring Courthouse Performance

Over more years than I care to acknowledge, I have visited a large number of federal, state, and local courthouses for the purpose of assessing their functional ability to meet the current and future operational needs of courts. Inevitably, I am confronted with three concerns of the court following my site visits:

  • How acute are the identified deficiencies?
  • How do the identified deficiencies in this courthouse compare to deficiencies in other courthouses?
  • What projects should we prioritize based on need and available funds?

Therein lies the need for a quantification process; a system of courthouse performance metrics that allows me to address these concerns with an objective, documented response.

This brings me to the second basic question: How can this be accomplished?

Nearly ten years ago, we developed a facility assessment process that covers the five main performance criteria of space functionality, space standards, security, building condition, and court technology. These elements are quantified and standardized using rating factors and courthouse performance measures.
Depending upon the specific type of court (e.g., district, circuit, family, superior, municipal) these rating factors may number from approximately 100 to more than 350. The rating factors are used as a checklist during courthouse site inspections. Each rating factor has between two and six performance measures. Then, each factor is compared to each of the other factors (through pairwise comparisons) and weighted using Expert Choice decision support software. Following a courthouse site inspection, the ratings are run through the same software to obtain scores specific to a courthouse.

The higher the resultant rating score, the better the existing facility meets the operational needs of the court. A rating score of 100 represents an ideal courthouse, 80-100 is a well-functioning courthouse, and below 60 is a courthouse with significant challenges. Likewise, a rating score of 100 in any of the five main criteria (space functionality, space standards, security, building condition, and court technology) represents an ideal courthouse for that criterion.

An overview of the five criteria follows:

  • Space Functionality – the extent to which space supports the number and operations of judges and staff, and functions properly for adjacencies, layout, accessibility, and circulation
  • Space Standards – the conformance of space with the jurisdiction’s applicable standards for size, quantity, and proportion
  • Security – the security features in the facility, such as secure and restricted circulation patterns, prisoner holding areas, and sallyports
  • Building Condition – the condition of general building and judiciary tenant space of the facility, including the condition of the building systems (e.g., plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning), common areas, lobbies, elevators and stairways, and exterior spaces on the site (e.g., plaza, walkways, and parking)
  • Technology – the availability of technology systems in the courthouse to support court proceedings, public access, and coordination between court components

Through the application of a process that uses a standardized set of rating factors and courthouse performance measures – an effective asset management planning tool – we can compare the scores of the rated courthouse to the scores of other courthouses in our database on an “apples to apples” basis. The scores can be used to determine the magnitude of any deficiencies, measure the relative benefits of multiple corrective options, and provide an objective measure for a jurisdiction to prioritize limited funds to correct the deficiencies.

As an example, the following quote from a Virginia newspaper article regarding the application of the courthouse performance metrics demonstrates how an objective measurement process based on a standardized system of metrics can be used in the planning and decision-making process.

The anticipated Mosley report is one of several exploring concerns about a courthouse renovation. One of the first was whether rehabbing the 1901 structure would make it sufficiently secure. After rating the courthouse on five criteria used to help localities consider whether to renovate historic courts or build new ones, Fentress Inc. at first concluded building a new courts complex in Verona might be the best and most cost-effective option. But in May, after Frazier Associates tweaked its renovation plan, the company gave it a security rating of 96 out of 100 points. The functionality of the courthouse overall scored 92 out of 100 points.

Now that I’ve laid out the basics of the rating system, I’ll delve into the specific quantitative performance criteria for courthouses starting with my next post on space functionality.

Tags: Courthouse Planning

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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include organizational development, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.