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Sonoma County courthouse construction pushed back to 2015


Plans for a new Sonoma County courthouse are moving forward, but a scaled-down budget and a delayed schedule are expected to push construction back another year to 2015.

An aerial view of the Sonoma County courthouse and jail complex

The revisions, driven by state funding woes, are expected to trim more than $15 million, or about 10 percent, from the construction budget, reducing the total estimated cost to about $166 million.

Design work was set to begin this year on the six-story, 173,500-square-foot facility on the county administration campus in Santa Rosa north of Steele Lane. Now it could begin next summer.

The revisions came as part of an endorsement the project earned last week from a panel of local and state judges tasked with deciding which court projects to fund statewide and which to shelve amid the state’s fiscal crisis.

“It’s a very difficult time for the courts,” Sonoma County Superior Court presiding judge Rene Chouteau said Tuesday in an update to the Board of Supervisors on the project.

Court officials say the new facility, planned on the site of the former county jail, is needed to replace the 47-year-old Hall of Justice, which officials say is outdated, undersized and cannot be renovated to serve court needs. Those needs include modern security features, larger jury assembly and deliberation rooms, in-custody holding areas and adult and children’s waiting rooms.

Chouteau and Supervisor Shirlee Zane were among several local officials who lobbied for the project in San Francisco last week during several days of hearings for the panel of judges, called the Court Facilities Working Group.

Of the 31 projects in the running, the panel recommended 23 projects go forward, including Sonoma County’s courthouse. Seven others were recommended for indefinite delay and another project left to a separate advisory body to review.

A final decision is expected next month from the state’s judicial council.

“At least at this point we have the green light to go forward,” Chouteau said.

Superior courts are a state division, and the money to fund court renovation projects comes from bonds paid for with criminal justice penalties and fees.

Gov. Jerry Brown complicated that funding picture this year when he shifted $240 million of the $310 million available for court projects in 2012-2013 to help fill the state’s budget gap. The same move spelled out future funding grabs of $50 million annually.

The reductions prompted the panel of judges to recommend a smaller number of projects for continued funding. The panel also recommended tighter budgets for each.

For Sonoma County, the $15.4 million reduction could result in fewer courtrooms, fewer holding cells for inmates or other changes in construction, court officials said.

Preliminary plans had called for 15 criminal courtrooms, 450 above- and below-ground parking spaces and consolidated criminal, traffic, juvenile dependency and probate proceedings.

The project architect is New York-based Richard Meier & Partners, the firm that designed The Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, among other notable structures.

Estimated design and engineering costs amount to more than $8 million, officials said.

The state purchased the 6.8 acre property from the county this year for the bargain price of $5.2 million. The purchase included the former jail site and two sites to be used for parking, the 3-acre county Fleet Building site on Ventura Avenue and a 1.3-acre parking lot on Russell Avenue.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

7 Responses to “Sonoma County courthouse construction pushed back to 2015”

  1. Matt says:

    Given the issues that have occurred in the last 10 years with the current system, why not try something different that may benefit us? because there is another way that has been done for years? when a city, county, state or country refuses to acknowledge that there may be another way that may save money, time and potentially lives progress comes to a screaming halt.

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  2. James Robinson says:

    I work construction and I see what goes on every day. I see construction companies paying cheap wages to poor immigrants who have to take what they can get. I see contractors underbid on jobs and then use shoddy materials and undocumented workers to increase their profits and lower their costs. I see these workers get hurt on the job because they are not trained. This job in Healdsburg looks exactly like the same things I see every day. I feel sorry for the donors who paid 3 milion for a building that is full of design and construction flaws and will have to be torn down and built again. All because they chose to build it cheap. “cheap” costs more in the long run.

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  3. Jim says:

    @ Steveguy…

    The judicial system doesn’t know anything about reasonableness. Though is never made the papers, do a Google on the upgraded computer system within the CA court system. The state wasted $560 million and then suspended it. $560 million and NOTHING to show for it.

    The amount of waste in every aspect of the CA government is appalling. Anyone who actually believes MORE taxes are needed is a certifiable moron.

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  4. R.B. Fish says:

    @ James Robinson. Completely untrue and unsubstantiated. Your comment reflects no knowledge about the construction industry.

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  5. James Robinson says:

    Take a look at the story about the Healdsburg construction debacle above. A project Labor Agreement would have prevented these people paying 3 million dollars for a building they can’t use. This is what happens when you use the “good old boys” construction network and there is no accountability or transparency. These scab contractors hire untrained and inexperienced workers and do a shoddy job with cheap materials. In the end it’s penny wise and pound foolish. These folks paid 3 million for a building that is now uninhabitable but none of the Board will even take responsibility for hiring these jokers. How much do you want to be that they hired a “friend” and that’s how they ended up with this mess?

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  6. Bill me says:

    On September 18, our Board of Supervisors will discuss Project Labor Agreements-which would drive up our costs of projects even more, you can be even more outraged about our public money going to Special Interests. When you vote in policies that exclude or discriminate against 86% of the local workforce, you have to wonder why Shirlee Zane is supporting it. Ask her “Why?”. Why do we need more regulation that screws up fair and open competitive bidding. Why Shirlee? Is it payback for support of your political ambitions? Can’t wait to hear your response.

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  7. Steveguy says:

    $150 Million.. Really ? Follow the money and put the guilty in prison. Really

    Is this the Democrat ” Legitimate Rape “?

    $150 Million ? Are they kidding ??

    Wea re actually doomed if our judicial system can call this a reasonable expense. Wow

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