The current Tahoe Courthouse in Tahoe City, shared with Placer County
The proposed project would replace the court's current space with a modern, secure, adequately sized courthouse. Security improvements would include a single point of entry with security screening, separate hallways for the public, staff, and in-custody defendants, and adequate holding areas for in-custody defendants. The project would also enable the court to provide basic services currently not possible due to space restrictions, such as a self-help center, space for family law mediation, and appropriately sized meeting and waiting areas.
A site has not been selected for the new courthouse. To meet the planned building and parking requirements, a site of approximately 1.25 acres will be needed.
Because of significant, ongoing cuts to the judicial branch budget, this project is indefinitely delayed, based on the Judicial Council's October 26, 2012 decision.
Williams + Paddon Architects + Planners, Inc.
Construction Manager at Risk
To be selected, schedule TBD
What is the current status of 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 several delays, and has been required by the Judicial Council to undergo reductions to its construction budget, overseen by a statewide oversight committee of justices, judges, and public building experts.
The Tahoe Area courthouse project has been designated by the Judicial Council as indefinitely delayed. News release. Funding of future phases of this project depends in part on what happens to court construction funds in future fiscal years.
Who owns the existing North Tahoe Area Courthouse?
The existing courthouse is owned by the County of Placer. The Superior Court of Placer County occupies a portion of this space by agreement, but is an organization within the State of California’s judicial branch.
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.
Why is a new courthouse needed?
The current courthouse does not meet modern operational and security requirements. The building is not up to current seismic standards. It also does not meet current security standards, as it lacks security screening, and in-custody defendants must walk past the public areas in the courtroom. The courtroom occupies approximately 525 square feet and has no jury box. Seating a jury is very challenging and inconvenient. There is no space to assemble jurors, so juries are assembled in the hallway. The building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and its aged systems inadequately heat the building in winter and cool it in summer.
How big a courthouse is being planned?
The current plan is for a building to include one courtroom, separate circulation for in-custody defendants, staff, and the public, secure holding areas, jury assembly space, a deliberation room, a self-help center, family court mediation, a children's waiting room, and attorney-client meeting rooms, occupying 12,500 square feet, The project will undergo review by an oversight committee aiming to reduce project costs, so this plan may change. The project also estimated the need for 45 parking spaces for the public and staff.
Is renovation of the existing building being considered as an option?
This option has been considered and determined not to be feasible. The Court portion of the building is too small to renovate successfully, and building expansion, with the cooperation of the County as owner of the site, presents environmental concerns and is not possible within the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) land coverage regulations.
How did the state arrive at its initial budget for the project?
Judicial 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, council 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.
The Judicial Council staff develops a project schedule, which provides a basis for estimating escalation to the mid-point of construction, which is then added to the project budget. This was the process used to arrive at the initial budget for this project. The project budget has been reduced and may be reduced further in the coming fiscal year.
Why does it cost so much to build a one-courtroom courthouse?
Courthouses are complex structures with special security needs and other features that drive the cost. They are important public buildings built to last–for the next 50 to 100 years. In addition, because single-courtroom buildings lack the economies of scale that make larger courthouses more efficient, they are generally more expensive on a square-foot basis. Geography also affects the projected cost—a courthouse in the Tahoe basin area of Placer County must be designed for the snow load, the topography affects site works costs, and weather can create delays during construction. The Tahoe basin also has a very short construction window each year, which can lead to extra costs.
As noted earlier, the judicial branch is pursuing cost reductions on courthouse projects. Any resulting savings would remain in the fund to benefit other courthouse projects.
Why is money being spent on a new courthouse when there are so many other local needs and there is a state budget crisis?
This courthouse was identified by the state as being a “critical need” project based on security, accessibility, and structural considerations. The courthouse work will be funded without reliance on the state’s General Fund. The project is funded and managed by the judicial branch, which is a separate branch of state government, now independent of the County administrative structure.
How is the new courthouse being funded?
The courthouse will be funded from statewide increases in court user fees, authorized by Senate Bill 1407, which passed in 2008. This bill approved the issuance of up to $5 billion in lease revenue bonds to fund this project and 40 others throughout the state, to be repaid by court fees, penalties, and assessments.
What is the impact of the state’s current budget crisis on this project?
Since 2009, $1.7 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 several delays, and has been required by the Judicial Council to undergo reductions to its construction budget, overseen by a statewide oversight committee of justices, judges, and public building experts. Funding of future phases of this project depends in part on what happens to court construction funds in future fiscal years.
Who decides where the new courthouse will be located?
The Judicial Council is working closely with the Superior Court and with a Project Advisory Group that includes judges and court staff, and county government representatives and officials. The Judicial Council follows a standard site selection policy and process. The process involves objectively evaluating all potential sites and selecting at least two sites that meet agreed-upon criteria for the proposed new courthouse in providing access to justice for the portion of Placer County inside the Tahoe basin, within the confines of the project’s budget and schedule. The Presiding Judge signs off on a preferred and alternate site, and the site selection must also be approved by the council's Administrative Director and the State Public Works Board.
What sites are currently being considered?
The current preferred site is bounded by North Lake Boulevard and Lake Forest Road in Tahoe City. The site is located near the existing courthouse/sheriff’s station building in a commercial area.
How is the community being kept informed of progress on the project?
Updates will be posted this project web page. Local community members can also contact a member of the Project Advisory Group.
How will the community have input on the project?
Members of the Project Advisory Group will be the main conduits for ongoing community input to the project, but we understand that the public may have questions about it as well. Questions about the project can be sent by email to email@example.com.
Who will design the courthouse?
The Judicial Council’s request for qualifications for this project went out in August 2010. The Judicial Council and the Court interviewed a short list of candidate firms. In January 2011, the architecture firm of Williams+Paddon Architects was selected for this project. The Roseville-based firm brings expertise on civic and community buildings, education facilities, and other building types. Architectural design cannot begin until site selection and acquisition are complete.
Will the new courthouse be energy-efficient and sustainably designed?
Yes. All courthouse projects funded by SB 1407 are being designed to achieve a LEED Silver level as defined 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. More information on LEED
What is the timeline for the project?
Funding was initially authorized in July 2010. The architect was selected in January 2011. Site selection and acquisition are scheduled to be completed by summer 2012. Based on the approved project schedule, architectural design is scheduled to be completed by spring 2014, and construction activities are scheduled to start in summer 2014 and be completed by fall of 2015. The schedule is subject to change.
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