The transformation of courthouse row on historic Federal Street begins this month with the opening of the $109 million J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center.
The new courthouse will combine the operations of four state courts in one building for the first time locally.
The glass and steel structure at the corner of Federal and North streets has 11 courtrooms: four each for Superior and District courts, two for Juvenile Court, and one for Housing Court.
"This is a major justice center," said Richard L'heureux, manager for programming, planning and design for the Trial Court of Massachusetts. "Like the rest of the world, it's one-stop shopping."
The sprawling, five-story building will open in phases, with Superior Court scheduled to be up and running by Monday, Nov. 21, and the others to follow.
"Everyone should be here by Christmas," said L'heureux, who led a tour of the building yesterday for about 40 business and community leaders.
The hard-hat group entered the building through the main entrance on Federal Street and walked under a high crossbeam upon which was scrawled a quote from Daniel Webster — "The law: It has honored us; may we honor it."
L'heureux led Mayor Kim Driscoll and others into the law library, a large room with five chandeliers and ornate wooden balconies that was once the First Baptist Church. The state bought the 1806 church building and moved it a short distance nearly three years ago to make way for courthouse construction. The law library is attached to the main courthouse.
In a few weeks, antique furniture and portraits of judges will be moved from the old law library in Superior Court to this new room. The court's witchcraft records will be on exhibit here.
On the top floor, the tour group saw judges' private offices and jury deliberation rooms, which have large glass windows with views of the North River and beyond.
In fact, there are panoramic views across the city from every side of the building.
The visitors got to sit in the main courtroom for District Court, which has been named for Samuel Zoll, the late Salem mayor and former chief justice of the Massachusetts District Courts who died earlier this year.
The large court building has holding cells in the basement for prisoners and a central "security core," where prisoners will travel in elevators without entering public parts of the building.
A rooftop garden, LED lights and other features gave the building a high environmental rating.
The city leaders who took the tour included many members of The Salem Partnership, a city-business group that lobbied for the new courthouse. Asked for their reactions, the officials ran out of hyperboles.
"Spectacular," City Planner Lynn Duncan said.
"It's an outstanding building," said George Atkins, chairman of The Partnership. "And better here than in Middleton," a reference to rumored plans years ago to build this mega-courthouse in a more central location in Essex County.
"It's amazing, stunning," said Joe Correnti, a lawyer with offices on Federal Street. He called the court building "an anchor for (the) downtown."
The completion of this building raises questions about the status of the estimated $60 million renovation of the Probate and Family Court building next door. Although there is currently no funding for that project, state Rep. John Keenan said he has been talking to the state about initial financing for design plans.
"I want to make sure that does not lose momentum," Keenan said yesterday.
The long-term plans for the current District and Superior court buildings, once they become vacant, are uncertain.