Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2009-2010
Architect's rendering: the future Robert M. Falasco Justice Center
The Los Banos Courthouse is a county-owned, shared-use building constructed in 1980. The court occupies approximately a third of the building's 15,000 square feet, with a single courtroom and associated space for court operations. Currently, the court conducts felony, misdemeanor, traffic, drug court, limited civil, and small claims calendars here. The facility is overcrowded, functionally deficient, and significantly lacking in security features to current standards.
The project will replace the current courthouse with a modern, secure, and functionally appropriate courthouse. It will expand court services in western Merced County by providing a jury assembly room and adding a family law division and family law proceedings, including mediation and self-help services. It will also provide one additional courtroom to accommodate a planned new judgeship. Acquisition of the site for the courthouse, 4.6 acres at G Street on the north side of Mercey Springs Road, was completed in January 2012.
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance
Judicial Council staff complied with CEQA by filing a categorical exemption for this project's preferred site on August 12, 2011.
Architect's rendering: New Merced County Courthouse, northeast view
Williams + Paddon
Construction Manager at Risk
What is the current status of the project?
The new Merced County Courthouse is in construction, with an expected construction completion date in fall 2016. This schedule is subject to change.
Why does Merced County need a new courthouse?
The Superior Court of Merced County provides court services to west county residents from the shared-use, county-owned courthouse in Los Banos, 35 miles southwest of the county seat of Merced. The court occupies approximately a third of the building, which was completed in 1980. The Los Banos Courthouse is a high-volume facility, particularly for traffic, misdemeanor, and felony arraignments; there are no jury trials due to space and security issues. More than 300 people enter and exit the one-courtroom facility daily through a single, very congested entrance. Security is substandard: The courthouse lacks central holding and holding cells adjacent to the courtrooms, and in-custody detainees are transported through public corridors used by the public and court staff, creating potential security risks. In addition, the court’s space is overcrowded and has significant seismic, physical, functional, accessibility, and efficiency problems that hinder the court’s ability to provide adequate access to justice to west Merced County residents. Examples include:
What is the plan for the new courthouse?
The new courthouse will include two courtrooms in approximately 29,000 square feet, replacing the court’s current facility in Los Banos. It will handle all case types, including criminal, civil, family, traffic, small claims, juvenile, and probate proceedings. Improved security features will include separate hallways for the public, court staff, and those in custody, adequately sized and separate holding areas, a secure sallyport, and an appropriately sized security screening area. The project will also provide for new services, including a self-help center, a jury assembly room, and attorney interview/witness waiting rooms. The new courthouse will be a modern, full-service and secure facility, providing better access to justice to west Merced County residents.
Was renovation considered before the plan to build a new courthouse was decided on?
The Judicial Council evaluated renovation as an option and found that it would not be feasible. The court’s space in the county-owned Los Banos Courthouse is inadequate to meet the needs of a modern courthouse. In addition, the state cannot, in the majority of cases, renovate a building it does not own.
Who is the Judicial Council, and why are they managing this project?
The Judicial Council is the policymaking body for the California court system, including the trial courts, known as Superior Courts, based in each county. Among other responsibilities, the council through its Capital Program office is responsible for planning, acquisition, design, renovation, and construction of court facilities. The new courthouse will be owned by the judicial branch.
Judicial Council Staff
How has the local community had input regarding the courthouse project?
The Project Advisory Group, required by Rules of Court and state law, remains the main source of ongoing community input to the project. The Project Advisory Group is composed ofcommunity leaders. Judicial Council staff work with the group throughout the site selection, design, and construction process. Project updates will be posted to the California Courts website, and media advisories will be distributed at key milestones.
What will happen to the court’s current facilities when the new courthouse is completed?
After the new courthouse is completed and the court vacates its space in the mixed-use, county-owned Los Banos Courthouse, Judicial Council staff will work with the County to help determine the disposition of the court’s space in the current courthouse.
Where will the new courthouse be located?
The state acquired a 4.6-acre site at the intersection of Mercey Springs Road and G Street. The County plans to acquire the remainder of the property for a new government complex at the Gateway Center, which will include other county and city government buildings. The new courthouse is expected to become an anchor building in the new government center.
What was the process used to select the site?
Judicial Council staff worked closely with the Superior Court and the Project Advisory Group, which includes community leaders, to determine the preferred and alternate site. Council staff followed a standard site selection process. The process involved objectively evaluating potential sites and selecting at least two sites that met agreed-upon criteria for the proposed new courthouse in providing access to justice for residents of west Merced County, within the confines of the project’s budget and schedule.
Why does the Judicial Council decide where the new court is built? Why isn't this a County decision?
Historically, trial courts functioned largely as county departments, but that changed in 2002, with passage of the Trial Court Facilities Act. This law made the State of California responsible for court facilities statewide, rather than the counties. The law gave the Judicial Council responsibility for facilities owned or occupied by the courts and made it responsible for operations, maintenance, and repairs, as well as site acquisition, planning, design, and construction of capital projects that replace or renovate courthouses. Council staff work closely with each affected Superior Court and the Project Advisory Group throughout the site selection process.
Was an environmental review completed for the project?
The Judicial Council is the lead agency for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). On August 12, 2011, council staff filed a Notice of Exemption under CEQA's Class 32 categorical exemption for an in-fill development project.
Will the new building be energy-efficient and sustainably designed?
Yes. The building will be designed with attention to sustainability. The building’s sustainability features will qualify it for a LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance “green” buildings.
How is the new courthouse being funded?
The courthouse was ranked as an “Immediate Need” in the judicial branch’s capital-outlay plan, making it among the branch’s highest-priority infrastructure projects. It is funded by Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008 to provide up to $5 billion in bond funding for new and renovated courthouses using court fees, penalties, and assessments rather than taxpayer revenues from the state’s General Fund.
How did the state arrive at its budget for the project?
Council staff develop each project budget by first determining the building size, site size, and number of parking spaces. Then it provides this information to a professional cost estimating firm that creates a hard construction cost for the building and site work. To this, staff add all project soft costs, which includes all costs associated with evaluating, selecting, and acquiring a site, analysis required to comply with CEQA, the fee for the architecture and engineering team, geotechnical testing, project management and construction management fees, commissioning fees, and the cost of furniture, fixtures, and equipment.
How can the state afford a new courthouse at all, given current state finances?
To fund desperately needed renovations and repairs, criminal penalties and assessments, parking offense penalties, and civil filing fees were created or increased. This ensured a revenue stream to finance courthouse construction and renovations, promising these projects would be paid for from within the court system rather than drawing on the state’s General Fund or local taxes. When the project is ready for construction, the state will sell bonds to finance the project. Once the courthouse is completed and occupied, the same revenue stream will repay those bonds over 25 years.
What is the impact of the state’s current budget crisis on this project?
Since 2009, $1.5 billion in court construction funds have been borrowed, swept to the General Fund, or redirected to court operations. As a result, this project, as with other courthouse projects statewide, has been subjected to delays. In addition, every Senate Bill 1407 project has been required by the Judicial Council to undergo budget reductions. These reductions are overseen by a statewide oversight committee of justices, judges, and public building experts established by the Judicial Council.
Who is the architect on the project?
Williams + Paddon Architects of Roseville was selected to design the new Merced County Courthouse in Los Banos. In business since 1981, the firm provides architecture, planning, interior and sustainability design services for civic, commercial, and education projects. Williams + Paddon has worked on many California projects, including the Jackson Rancheria Public Safety Building, the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, and the Placer County Community Development Resource Center.
How are the architects for courthouse construction projects selected?
Judicial Council staff follow a competitive, qualifications-based process to select the architects. Qualifications under consideration include the experience of the design and technical staff, the previous experience of the firm, and other criteria. Once the firm is selected, the fee is negotiated, and an award is made.
What are the key milestones in designing the courthouse?
Where can I see renderings of the new courthouse?
Renderings for this project are posted on the project web page under the GALLERY tab.
Will the new courthouse be energy-efficient and sustainably designed?
Most courthouse projects funded by SB 1407 are being designed to qualify for LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance “green” buildings. The courthouse design will meet the energy-efficiency requirements set forth in LEED as well as by California Energy Code.
Who will build the new courthouse?
Swinerton Builders is the construction manager at risk (CMAR) on the project. In business for 125 years, the company is employee owned and provides preconstruction, construction, and green consulting services. Experienced in civic and government construction, the company was named Contractor of the Year by Engineering News-Record in 2013. Swinerton is also the general contractor on the new Sutter County Courthouse project.
How was the CMAR selected?
The CMAR was selected through a competitive process factoring in qualitative criteria, such as the firm’s experience, as well as the contractor’s fee. The CMAR is retained early in the project for preconstruction services. Following a competitive bid for all subcontracts and the approval to award, the CMAR becomes the general contractor. Selection criteria include an evaluation of the firm’s plan for outreach to local subcontractors, ensuring that qualified local firms are fully aware of the bidding opportunity, the process, and the timeline.
What are the Judicial Council’s policies with regard to local hiring and purchasing during design and construction? How will members of the public find out about these opportunities?
Bonds were sold for this project in April 2015, after which the project was prepared for construction. The CMAR has conducted outreach to local subcontractors, ensuring that qualified local firms are fully aware of the bidding opportunity, process, and timeline. All qualified subcontractors, lower-tier subcontractors, and suppliers will be considered.
What are the key milestones in building the courthouse?
When will the courthouse be completed and operational?
This project is in construction with an expected completion date in fall of 2016. This schedule is subject to change.
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