MILTON — It resembled what the finished bench in the new $35 million Santa Rosa Judicial Center courtroom will look like enough for the Florida First Circuit judges to make recommendations to it with a little bit of imagination.


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For more than 20 years, the Santa Rosa County Commission has argued about replacing the courthouse built in downtown Milton in 1927.


First Circuit Judge John F. Simon Jr. appreciated the chance to sit behind the bench, familiarize himself with the witness and clerk stands on either side, and get a look at the sight lines. He walked around the make-believe courtroom and then made any suggestions to the designers or builders.


The life-size, to-scale replica of the bench was built in the Pensacola State College Massey Administration building on the Milton campus.


“I am very excited,” Simon said. “This is great for Santa Rosa County and its citizens. It has a lot more options than the old courthouse, like its huge screen, to really help people.”


On the wall opposite where the jury sits will be a massive, high-tech video screen for them to view evidence, court documents and other visuals. Designers preferred the one big screen versus jurors each looking down at small tablets.


Three judges showed up at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and took turns sitting at the desk the judge would use in the courtroom.


Suggested changes were minor. For example, they agreed two computers were better than three in the courtroom because it gave them more counter space to scan through law books.


Additionally, they asked for two shelves to store their books behind the judges’ bench.


First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Scott Duncan pointed out that “if something breaks out in the courtroom” the judges, administrators and others had two ways to escape danger behind the bench.


Circuit Judge Tony Giraud also appreciated getting the opportunity to see the replica that even included an American and state flag and the same size computer screens they will have in the future.


“It clearly helps us figure out what everything is going to look like,” Giraud said.


Sam Marshall Architects president David Alsop liked being able to explain the design and show off the drawings. Plus, he was able to get a few tips, such as a place a court reporter can set down a stenotype machine while standing at the judges’ bench.


“This is awesome,” Alsop said. “This is how it should work. We’ve got good judges and administrators who are very good at cooperation and team work.”


The building is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will remain on display until Monday in case any of the judges would like to see what the courtrooms will be like in the three-story, 110,000-square-foot facility on the 19-acre property on Avalon Boulevard.


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