Renovations under way at federal courthouse

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As attorneys and judges continue filing and litigating cases in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, a renovation project is underway and adding new life into the federal courthouse in downtown Indianapolis.

Using $69.3 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as part of a multi-billion dollar program, the 105-year-old building will be modernized for the 21st century and preserved for at least another century.

Rennovation main One aspect of a $69.3 million renovation project at the Birch Bayh Federal Building in Indianapolis involves renovating 13 murals inside the William E. Steckler ceremonial courtroom. The key components involve improving energy efficiency throughout the 105-year-old building. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“This building may look like a museum, but it’s a fully operational and functional federal building and we have to keep that in mind with this project,” said project manager Matthew Chalifoux of Washington, D.C.-based Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering. “We keep in mind that there’s 100 years of life in this building already, and we’re extending that life even longer.”

The U.S. General Services Administration is overseeing the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse project, which began in January and is scheduled to continue until August 2012. About 100 workers are currently working a night shift so as not to interfere with court business, and as many as 150 total will be working once a weekend shift is added, according to the GSA. Twenty-three companies, including 19 with offices in Indiana, are involved in the project.

Four key areas of the renovation:

• Fire prevention: More than 10 miles of sprinkler lines and 3,725 new sprinkler heads are being installed in the building, aimed at increasing the amount of coverage by six times the current level of protection and making it comply with modern safety codes. The new fire safety system will include voice alert alarms, and the overall impact will be to improve safety about 74 percent.

• A green roof: A new roof with grass, plants, and trees growing on top of it is being added in order to increase energy efficiency and help keep the building cooler and more environmentally friendly. The new 30,000-square-foot rooftop will provide as much oxygen as 18 trees, double the lifespan of the roof, and help insulate the building, according to a GSA release. The roof is being installed by Indianapolis-based Blackmore & Buckner Ro

Rennovation second Renovation project manager Matthew Chalifoux, with Washington, D.C.-based Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture and Engineering describes how the roof will look once it goes green. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

ofing, and once finished it will be the largest of four green roofs within Indianapolis.

• Harvesting rainwater: Five 2,000-gallon tanks will collect water from roof drains to provide a non-potable supply for the building’s 91 toilets and 28 urinals. The tanks are in the basement, and water will be filtered before going into the plumbing system. The harvesting effort is estimated to reduce water usage by as much as 30 percent.

• Digital controls: The building’s 300 manual controls for heating and air conditioning will be converted into a single digital keyboard that will better monitor air quality, comfort, and efficiency. Crews will be able to control the system remotely by cell phone and other mobile devices.

But aside from those main focuses of the project, other renovations are also happening throughout the courthouse. Murals in the William E. Steckler ceremonial courtroom, where now-Senior Judge Larry McKinney hears cases, are being renovated through this project. Those 13 murals that represent the original U.S. colonies line the top of the courtroom’s walls, according to court historian Doria Lynch.

Project leaders say the objective of that historical preservation aspect fits into the project’s overall theme: that people will think of this as a 1905 courthouse, even though it’s a 21st century building.

So far, the legal business of the courthouse hasn’t been impacted much, even though construction materials and temporary safety walls are around the outside of the building and in various spots.

Judge William Lawrence said he expects to be losing his chambers for a period of time starting in mid-July and will eventually be relocated elsewhere in the building. Judge McKinney will likely be moved sometime after that, as will the remaining judges and magistrates – though the timing will depend on the project’s overall progress.•


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  1. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

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  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise