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Officials including Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Borough President Claire Shulman, and New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye laid the symbolic cornerstone for the court's new building several blocks away Thursday morning.
It was a strange place for a reception as community leaders and court officials mingled and had refreshments while wearing hard-hats and standing in the middle of the building's steel skeleton.
"As you are aware, the current antiquated facility is inadequate for the needs of a modern family court," said Shulman.
The new court building is located directly across from Rufus King Park on Jamaica Avenue and should be completed by October 2001, said Jonathan Lippman, chief administrative judge for New York State Courts. The new building will have 18 courtrooms, twice as many as the old, and will be 202,650 square feet, he said.
The building will also pay tribute to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, whose more famous quotations will be displayed on the court's outside walls.
"It has been my dream that Queens would have a new family court that is state-of-the-art and more welcoming for families and worthy of the people who visit and work in the courthouse everyday," said Shulman.
Construction of the court began over a year ago on June 16, 1999. The city provided $96 million for the project, which was also financed through bonds issued by the Dormitory Authority of New York State, Lippman said.
Giuliani, who arrived late because he was visiting an injured corrections officer at Elmhurst Hospital, said family court judges make some of the most difficult decisions about the future of families.
"None of the good decisions are ever noted. If there is ever a mistake, oh my God, even the mayor criticizes it," said Giuliani.
Kaye echoed Giuliani's sentiment. "The work of family court is as important as any court in this nation," she said.
Giuliani said while the new building will have a huge impact on the borough's court system, it is also part of the continuing revitalization of downtown Jamaica.
"In three years Jamaica is going to be a very different place," said Giuliani, referring to the time when both the courthouse and the Jamaica link of the AirTrain are completed.
In three years the multiplex movie theater in downtown Jamaica should also be finished.
The $1.5 billion AirTrain project will allow riders of the subway and Long Island Rail Road to switch at the Jamaica Center station and take the light rail system to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Giuliani said the redevelopment of downtown Jamaica has improved the quality of life and level of safety in the area.
But not everyone is happy with the location of the new family court.
"It's going to be a beautiful building, but they did not have to put it here," said City Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans) during an interview.
Spigner said Jamaica Avenue is primarily a commercial strip, and a courthouse takes away valuable commercial space.
He said the court should have been placed in a less developed area of southeast Queens, which he contends would not deter people from going to court.
"If you have to go to court, you have to go to court," Spigner said.
Jeff Sidell also has some qualms about the new court building. Sidell has owned the family court snack bar since 1991, but he said currently there are no provisions for a snack bar in the new court.
"We need a new court, but I want to be part of it," he said. He sells hot dogs, pizza, snacks, and newspapers.
Sidell attended the event to lobby state officials to change their minds about putting a snack bar in the new courthouse. He said state court officials are leery about snack bars because of potential rodent and insect problems, adding that currently the other courthouses in Queens only have vending machines.
"People come to court with all of their frustrations and sit and wait all day," he said. "They need something to eat."
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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