223 William: Melbourne’s mothballed law court

Welcome to the William Cooper Justice Centre, located in the middle of Melbourne’s legal district at the corner of William and Lonsdale Streets in the city. Named for Australian Aboriginal leader William Cooper and used intended to be used by all three levels of courts in Victoria, the centre was officially opened by Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Rob Hulls on Wednesday, 6 October 2010.

223 William Street, Melbourne

Here is the centre a year on, the foyer empty and the security equipment still to be unpacked. So why is everything mothballed?

Brand new metal detector and x-ray machine, never used!

Once the home of the County Court, the 16 storey building at 223 William Street dates to 1968, when a central County Court was established in Victoria, taking over from local venues around Victoria. It continued in this role until 2002, when the new County Court was opened diagonally across the intersection, with much of the building laying empty. Here is an older photos from Google Street View: they have since updated their images.

Old County Court building: 223 William Street, Melbourne

It took until May 2009 for the Brumby Labor Government to decide what to do with the building, announcing their plans for a $33 million refurbishment (media release). The works included the refurbishment of five existing courtrooms and the fitting out of a new courtroom on the building’s third level, a new entry foyer and reception, and rooms to be used for mediation and other dispute resolution processes. As for the upper floors, these were intended to house the Judicial College of Victoria, the Sentencing Advisory Council and other justice-related agencies.

Work stared on the refurbishment soon after, with the work being carried out by design firm V Arc and construction contractor Hansen Yuncken. The current images in Google Street View shows the removal of the facade completed.

Unknown Google Street View update for 223 William Street

By April 2010 over 70% of the new services installed, and 40% of the new glass facade was in place – this progress photo is from the V Arc website.

Progress at 223 William Street, April 2010

When I first photographed the building in April 2011 I expected the building to be in use, given it was officially “opened” six months previously, but for some reason it was still empty. And if that wasn’t the only stuffup, the original $33 million cost had blown out to $43 million.

For the next few months the centre remained empty, until construction hoardings were erected over the footpaths, and a crane appeared on the roof to help replace the glazing. The hoardings remained there for over the winter months, and were not removed until a week or two ago. I never got a good photo of them, but you can just see the construction scaffolding behind the William Street water main renewal works in this photo from mid September.

William Cooper Justice Centre receiving some modifications

So one year late and with a second set of glass panels on the facade, will the William Cooper Justice Centre open any time soon?

Further reading

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