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State officials break ground on new Kent County Family Court

Kent County Family Court judges break ground at the site of the new courthouse.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Kent County Family Court judges break ground at the site of the new courthouse.

State elected officials and members of Delaware’s judiciary broke ground on Kent County’s new Family Court in Dover on Thursday.

The new courthouse will be located one block west of the Kent County Superior Court, making use of an EPA and DNREC-designated brownfield in downtown Dover that’s been difficult to develop.

The current courthouse was built in 1989; since then, both the county’s population and the court’s caseload has nearly doubled.

Family Court judge Mardi Pyott says the aging building has become too small to safely conduct court business.

“The citizens of Kent County come to our courthouse during the darkest points in their lives," she said. "Their suffering and stress is made worse by our cramped quarters. Imagine that at your lowest point, you see your abuser in the waiting area and go into a courtroom where you’re separated by only a couple feet.”

Family Court Chief Judge Michael Newell says the current courthouse also presents challenges when trying to move people in custody from a holding cell to a courtroom.

“Right now," he said, "they have to come through a hallway where staff and judges’ offices are, as opposed to being taken to the courtroom in a separate elevator from the detention facilities.”

The new building, located a block west of Kent County’s Superior Court, will be roughly three times larger. While the facility is only adding two courtrooms, the average courtroom size will more than double, allowing more space between parties

The state budgeted over $117 million for the new facility, with construction expected to begin this winter.

The layout and budget for the building closely resemble those of the new Sussex County Family Court, which broke ground in June.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.