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Custom Fitted

How to make a post office into a law school.

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In 2009, the exterior of the old Customs House and post office on Front Street, with its majestic columns and stately stone steps, will likely look as it does today. But the inside of the 120-year-old building will be a different story.

"Fortunately, this is a building that won't resist conversion," says University of Memphis Law School dean James Smoot. "We're going to preserve all of the exterior, and that will dictate in many respects what we do on the interior."

The building, which currently houses a post office, is expected to be vacated by 2007 and will be transformed into the university's law school by the fall of 2009. As such, the building will have to be retrofitted to meet current earthquake standards. It'll also need faculty and administrative offices. According to Smoot, the size of these rooms will be dictated by the existing windows.

"One of the biggest things we'll have to do is create five large classrooms," says Smoot. "That will involve taking out a bunch of walls in the interior of the building."

Another big change will involve making room for the law library. Smoot says the library will probably stretch from the cellar to the attic on the building's south side.

Since the building served as a federal courthouse until 1963, it already has courtrooms, but, over the years, the rooms were adapted for other uses.

"We're going to recapture that space and put the accoutrements back in, like benches for judges and juries and a witness box," says Smoot.

The law school will have three courtrooms, one large room that will accommodate as many as 250 spectators to be used for competitions, and two smaller rooms for student mock trial use.

The average enrollment of the law school ranges from 400 to 425, with about 50 members of faculty and staff. Parking accommodations are still unresolved.

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