JEFFERSON CITY — A new $68 million federal courthouse was dedicated Tuesday in Missouri's capital city in honor of former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, who helped secure the money for the project.
The new courthouse overlooks the Missouri River from a bluff that once held the foundation of the Missouri State Penitentiary, which had been the oldest continuously operated prison west of the Mississippi River. After closing in 2004, portions of the prison complex were demolished to make way for the courthouse while the most historic buildings were saved as tourist destinations.
The new L-shaped, 118,000-square-foot courthouse was completed this summer and held its first trial on Aug. 22. President Barack Obama signed legislation last Friday officially naming it the "Christopher S. Bond United States Courthouse." Workers had not had time to engrave Bond's name before Tuesday's dedication ceremony, which featured a high school band, a choir and dozens of thank-you mentions from federal, state and local public officials.
Bond told an invitation-only audience of a couple hundred people that the new building was needed both to better handle the court's caseload and to increase security.
The former courthouse shared space with the U.S. Postal Service, and judges, jurors, criminal defendants and visitors all had to share the same elevator to get to the second-floor courtrooms. Bond said the outdated structure was "an open-invitation" to violence.
The new courthouse "will be more than just a building, it will symbolize the basis of America's freedoms — of a fair and independent judiciary," Bond said.
The U.S. General Services Administration completed a study in 2001 that concluded the Jefferson City courthouse required substantial improvements. But it wasn't until 2005 when the first federal funding was approved. At an October 2008 groundbreaking ceremony that also featured Bond, government officials projected that the building would be complete by June 2011 at a cost of about $70 million.
Officials with the General Services Administration said Tuesday that construction was "substantially complete" by June at a cost slightly under what was budgeted.
The new building houses two district courtrooms, two magistrate courtrooms, a bankruptcy chamber and offices for the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Attorney's Office, among others.
Jefferson City officials hope the courthouse also will anchor the redevelopment of the former prison site. Although a couple of state office buildings have been built there, little private investment has occurred. Across the street from the courthouse are numerous crumbling buildings that are now in the process of being renovated.
The Jefferson City courthouse is the fourth new federal courthouse to be built in Missouri during the past couple of decades, following others in St. Louis, Kansas City and Cape Girardeau.
"The common thread is Kit Bond was always there fighting and competing for our state" to get the federal projects, said Sen. Roy Blunt, who sponsored the bill naming the courthouse after his predecessor.
Bond retired from the Senate in January after 24 years. He previously served as Missouri governor and auditor.