By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Construction of a new $174 million courthouse in Santa Rosa received a huge boost Friday from state court officials, who also blessed plans for new facilities in Lake and Mendocino counties.
Members of the state Judicial Council meeting Friday in San Francisco approved construction plans for the three facilities, which have been delayed for years because of the state’s budget crisis.
“This is a historic moment for us,” Jose Guillen, the executive officer of Sonoma County courts, said Friday.
The courthouse plans for Santa Rosa call for a six-story, 169,342-square foot facility at the county administration complex near the current Hall of Justice. It would replace a 48-year-old facility officials say is outdated, undersized and unable to be fixed.
The new facility will feature modern security that allows for the safe transport of inmates through a tunnel connecting the courthouse and jail, as well as a larger jury assembly area and deliberation rooms, a children’s waiting room and an in-custody holding area. It also is designed to be earthquake-safe.
“We in Sonoma County can certainly use a new courthouse. The security measures in place are woefully inadequate,” District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Friday.
Gov. Jerry Brown could still thwart the plans, depending on whether he can resist raiding a $290 million statewide construction fund as he has done in the past to balance the budget.
Court officials said it’s a positive sign that Brown’s preliminary budget, released Thursday, left the fund intact. A total of 15 projects are dependent on the money.
“It’s promising that the governor did not propose this time, for the first time in a few years, using money for those 15 projects,” said Teresa Ruano, a spokeswoman for the state courts.
The projects are funded through 2008 legislation that increased fines and fees to support $5 billion in bonds to build or renovate 41 courthouses in 34 counties.
That same year, a state feasibility report described the Hall of Justice in north Santa Rosa, which opened in 1966, as overcrowded and unsafe, and recommended replacing it.
The county administration complex site was selected with little public input over another proposal to put it in downtown Santa Rosa at the site of the main post office on Second and E streets. Advocates said the latter would have given courthouse visitors access to more amenities, while critics raised security concerns with transporting inmates across town.
Construction on the administration complex site was supposed to start in 2012 and be completed two years later. The start of construction is now slated for December 2016, with completion in March 2019, assuming all goes according to plan.
The state purchased the 6.8-acre property from the county in 2012 for $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.
Local officials scaled down the project’s size in an effort to appeal to members of the Judicial Council subcommittee tasked Friday with identifying further cost reductions to projects in the construction pipeline.
The building’s size was reduced by more than 4,000 square feet and the number of parking spaces reduced by 44 to 406. The number of holding cells for inmates awaiting court appearances also was reduced from 30 to 10.
The plans still call for 15 courtrooms and a jury assembly room that can accommodate up to 300 people. The facility would consolidate 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.
The actual construction costs of $148 million are roughly $9 million more than originally budgeted. Guillen blamed that on delays with the project.
Ken Gnoss, presiding judge of Sonoma County courts, said Friday the new design is something county residents “can be proud of.”
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau presented the final plans Friday in San Francisco, along with a project manager and planner from state courts.
State officials Friday also cleared the way for a $121 million courthouse planned for downtown Ukiah and a $55 million facility planned for Lakeport.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.