UC Davis' $30 million expansion includes high-tech courtroom

The new wing at the University of California Davis School of Law was a decade in the making. The $30 million expansion to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall includes an extra 18,000 square feet to the law building that first opened in 1968 in Davis, Calif. The space now includes a new high-tech courtroom, additional classrooms and group study areas, all of which incorporate the latest environmentally sensitive advances.

The new state-of-the-art appellate courtroom (no jury box) seats 125 and is expected to host oral arguments of the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the California Court of Appeal, something the law school has never done, Johnson said.

The state and federal court sessions will be open to both students and the public.

“It’s an incredible educational opportunity for our students and something the courts are trying to do to engage in more outreach, so the public gets a chance to see how the courts work,” said Kevin Johnson, dean of the law school.

Construction on the expansion started three years ago and will be followed by a renovation of the original wing, estimated to take another 18 months.

A 2004 report from an accreditation team of the American Bar Association noted the law school’s facilities were “small and reflect an earlier era in legal education.”

“There has been an incredible change in legal education and the building hadn’t changed in any substantial way,” Johnson said. “It was ill-equipped for a 21st century law school. We needed to update the building and make it befitting of Dr. King’s name.”

King Hall was originally built to accommodate a mostly male enrollment, while women today make up more than half of the enrollment. It was also designed for a smaller student body. Even with the expansion, there are no immediate plans to increase the current enrollment of 610 students, Johnson said.

The new wing incorporates many environmentally responsible advances, including the use of recycled denim jeans for insulation, lights that turn off automatically when rooms are empty, a design that maximizes natural light and windows that deflect solar heat.

The project was financed with $17.9 million in state bond funds, $5.5 million raised from private donors and $3.9 million from other campus funds. The law school needs to raise another $2.4 million to complete the renovation.