State to rebuild Nevada County Courthouse for $81 million |

State to rebuild Nevada County Courthouse for $81 million

NEVADA CITY “-Despite the state budget crunch, Nevada County’s courthouse, a fixture in historic Nevada City for 150 years, is expected to be relocated and rebuilt in coming years at a cost of $81 million.

The project is part of a $5 billion plan to improve the safety of 41 state-run courthouses through construction and renovation.

“I am certain as I possibly can be that we wouldn’t stay in the current location, because that would require the demolition of a historic building. There’s no way we’re going to demolish that,” said Sean Metroka, court executive officer.

A location on Highway 49 could promote easier transfer of inmates from the county jail, as well as more parking, said Metroka. He stressed, however, that no decision has been made about the timing to build a new courthouse or the location.

“Our courthouse in Nevada City is scheduled to be replaced by this revenue. The question on everyone’s mind is when. We don’t have an answer for that,” Metroka said.

In September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1407, legislation that will provide $5 billion in lease-revenue bonds to finance new construction and renovate outdated courthouses throughout the state. The governor announced he would look at statewide budget cuts in the billions, even as soon as this week.

The county did not request the courthouse funds.

At the start of the new year, state officials will begin ironing out construction details and set forth a time schedule to bring the courthouse up to state standards. A detailed funding request by the Administrative Office of the Courts is due to the state Department of Finance by next summer, said Metroka.

“Improving our state’s aging court facilities has been an integral part of my promise to Californians to rebuild our infrastructure and increase public safety,” Schwarzenegger said at the time. “This bill not only delivers on that promise to finance desperately needed construction projects, but it will also help create thousands of jobs for California workers.”

In October, the Judicial Council of California approved a list of 41 courthouses that will receive funds for new construction or renovation sometime in the next decade.

The council classified a “new Nevada City courthouse” as “critical” and estimated construction costs at $81 million.

According to the Judicial Council, 90 percent of courthouses need improvements to “protect the safety and security of the public, litigants, jurors and families who do business” in the courts.

Nevada City’s courthouse is no exception.

“We are at the limit for our needs. Our needs are increasing,” Metroka said.

Besides falling short in meeting state seismic stability standards, the century-old courthouse has issues leading adult and juvenile custody defendants to courtrooms, Metroka said.

A state law bans juvenile defendants from being restrained in a public space because their cases are confidential, Metroka said. Attorneys and judges often are sent to Juvenile Hall to handle cases, increasing courthouse costs.

When custody defendants make their way to the courtroom now, the hallways first must be cleared of the public.

“It is still not a desirable situation,” Metroka said. “It takes a tremendous amount of juggling.”

Secured hallways that allow the transfer of custody defendants is needed, Metroka said.

The original courthouse burned in a fire shortly after it was first constructed. A second building was added on in 1890 and in 1936 received an art deco facade as part of the Works Progress Administration efforts to employ out-of-work people during the Great Depression, said Pat Chesnut of the Searls Library. City Hall was given a similar facelift and Nevada City Elementary School was built at about that time, Chesnut added.

“This is an old building,” Metroka said.

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