For a few moments Monday evening, Carrie Carpenter got to play judge.
The 10-year-old Billings girl sat in the chair usually occupied by Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom, talked into the microphone and looked out over the Big Horn Courtroom on the fifth floor of the newly completed $80 million courthouse in downtown Billings.
“It was kind of fun. The technology is amazing,” Carrie said after seeing a demonstration of a wheelchair-accessible witness box.
Carrie and her mother, Deanna Carpenter, were among more than 100 people who visited the new courthouse during an open house that ran from 5 to 7 p.m.
Carpenter said her family was “just curious” about the building.
“It’s beautiful. We didn’t know what to expect,” she said.
A formal, invitation-only dedication of the courthouse is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday on the fourth-floor roof garden patio.
During the open house, people could move freely through the public areas of the building. Most of the interest was on the fourth and fifth floors, where there are three courtrooms, the roof garden patio and a jury assembly room.
Deputy clerks of court greeted the public in the courtrooms and jury assembly room and gave informal talks about the various features.
“I’m impressed with the design. It’s such an important building in the heart of the city,” said Wayne Gustafson, a retired Billings architect.
The modern, American-style architecture fits in well with the city, he said while enjoying the view from the roof patio on a warm, late summer evening.
“It’s very nice, impressive,” said Donna Dierenfield, who came with her husband, Doug, to check out the new building.
“I love the view here,” she said as the couple stepped onto the fifth floor, where huge west-facing windows provide a wide-angle view of the city.
Former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley also gave the courthouse high marks.
"I love the interior space. It’s a wonderful facility for Billings,” he said.
The energy-efficient, 128,742-square-foot building is designed to use 30 percent less power than a typical building of the same size. Construction began in October 2010, and the building opened for business by late August.
Owned by the U.S. General Services Administration and built by Mortenson Construction, a Minnesota-based firm, the courthouse was funded by stimulus money from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Architects from NBBJ, the Seattle firm that designed the building, also attended the open house.
“It’s so exciting. We’re hearing a lot of positive comments,” said Jeanne Iannucci, who, along with Tom Henry, both NBBJ architects and project managers, shadowed some of the people as they visited the courtrooms, lobbies and patio.
“It’s very rewarding. It’s just great to see so much public interest,” Henry said.
The design is intended to make justice visible, with courtrooms on the fourth and fifth floors and large windows, Iannucci said. The first, second and third floors, which are home to the Clerk of Court, U.S. Probation and Parole, U.S. Marshal Service, U.S Attorney’s Office and GSA, form the base and support for the court, she said.