Newport News, VA


In 2005, the U.S. government embarked upon a project to build a new U.S. District Courthouse in Newport News, the State of Virginia's 1st congressional district. The facility would replace the existing courthouse, an archaic facility that was unable to be effectively modified to meet the most current (let alone future) security standards mandated for government buildings.


The building needed to house several key elements – courtrooms, judges' chambers, inmate holding cells and staff areas – in a way that provided both a high level of security as well as ease and functionality for the daily business of running a judicial system. Specifically, the new U.S. District Courthouse needed to be:

  • Secure: Adhering to the strict and complex requirements for U.S. Federal Courts that ensure heightened security measures
  • Functional: Incorporating a design that was open, stable and functional
  • Aesthetically-appealing: Blending into the historic landscape of the downtown area, which already included brick load-bearing masonry structures and stone public buildings
  • Green: Satisfying LEED certification guidelines


Scannell developed a 38,000-square-foot facility that houses federal courtrooms, judges' chambers, inmate holding cells, a U.S. Marshal building command center and staff areas. The facility was designed in a way that balanced the security measures dictated by a U.S. government building with the local government's desire to provide a structure that is stable, open and reflective of the architecture and atmosphere of the local neighborhood. To accomplish this, Scannell:

  • Created a design that incorporated anti-progressive collapse structural reinforcement
  • Incorporated materials for glazing and walls that protect against blasts
  • Situated courtrooms on the upper two floors, with judges' chambers and jury rooms adjacent to them
  • Developed a circulation and traffic flow plan that integrates separated jury, judge and staff areas and isolates prisoner movement
  • Designed a distinct office area to include spaces for the district clerk staff, U.S. Marshals Service and court security officers
  • Organized building entry through a two-story lobby for greater ease and public access
  • Ensured the building was accessible from West Avenue, the city's primary pedestrian link for the neighborhood
  • Wired sound attenuators in the ductwork to prevent acoustic issues
  • Strategically placed rooftop equipment to limit interference with courtroom proceedings
  • Created the public waiting spaces with a pre-cast grid, overhang for shade, and glass curtain walls to take advantage of the views of the James River
  • Developed the exterior with both brick and pre-cast concrete to be sensitive to the historic context of other buildings in downtown Newport News


  • Incorporated an HVAC system—which consists of a hydronic heating system, air-cooled condensing units and VAV air-handling units—that performs at least 25 percent better than an ASHRAE 90.1-1999 baseline, making it energy-efficient as well as easy to operate and maintain
  • Used recycled and regional materials, low-VOC paints and coatings to provide an energy-efficient building envelope


The new U.S. District Courthouse in Newport News is a modern facility that meets all building system and security standards mandated for a federal building. Its innovative design allows all those involved with the judicial system in Newport News to operate within the facility in a manner that is both functional and flexible. As an added bonus, the historic look of the exterior, as well as its location right along the James River, make it a welcoming fixture in the neighborhood.