There will be a shared sense of relief among court staff, lawyers, police and criminals alike following the reopening of Levin Courthouse today.
It came as a surprise to all court users when the doors to the Levin Courthouse - a relatively new building - were suddenly closed by Ministry of Justice officials in November last year due to earthquake and seismic safety concerns.
The 2016 Kaikoura earthquake had prompted engineers and the ministry to undertake a retrospective look at all building plans, and while Levin Courthouse was less than 10 years old, it was deemed in need of urgent seismic strengthening.
For almost a year all proceedings at Levin District Court were transferred to neighbouring courtrooms like Palmerston North which was 47km away, meaning significant travel for everyone concerned.
The reopening after the $2.3 million upgrade had been a long time coming, too. Originally the work was expected to take less than four months, but that date was revisited, and then the outbreak of Covid-19 brought all work to a halt in March.
While workers were back on site in early May, the new physical distancing restrictions post Covid-19 pushed out timelines and only served to further delay the reopening.
MOJ general manager commercial and property Fraser Gibbs said once a reopening date was locked in it was logistically critical that there were no further delays, and he thanked all those involved in the construction for their efforts.
"It was critical we stuck to that date," he said.
During that time the ministry also seized the opportunity to make further necessary upgrades to audio and visual technology, a new sprinkler system, install new LED lighting, and implement some security-related alterations.
That included making sure the front-of-house customer service area complied with surrent security standards, ensuring the safety of those who worked there.
The reopening today drew key officials from the Ministry of Justice, including Minister of Justice Andrew Little, who acknowledged it had been a year of disruption, but it was important the work was identified and duly completed.
Even those who had appeared before the court during that time got a mention. Secretary for Justice Andrew Kibblewhite said he wanted to acknowledge the efforts of all the different arms of the Levin Court during what had been a difficult year.
"I'd like to thank the Levin staff, the judiciary, the local legal profession and all court participants for their patience and understanding over the last 10 months," he said.
"Having court participants and staff travelling to Palmerston North was a big ask, but the willingness of all involved to continue to provide timely access to justice has been greatly appreciated."
Kibblewhite said during that time the ministry worked with Muaūpoko and some Youth Court hearings were held at marae, while registrar list appearances were held at a building leased by the ministry opposite the courthouse.
"We are committed to providing healthy and safe facilities for people to work in and for participants to receive access to justice services," he said.
Meanwhile, the refit was part of a review of all buildings and Levin Courthouse was one of six across New Zealand to be tagged for safety improvements.
The court was immediately closed last November when it was found more than 90 support brackets between floor beams that held the pre-cast concrete slabs of the first floor needed improving and to be made more secure.
The $2.3m total cost of the rebuild was within budget and funded by the ministry's baseline funding.
The building was officially opened by representatives of a local iwi, Muaūpoko.