- How Bad Are California Courthouses? Statewide Video Tour Including Porterville
- Superior Court of Tulare County
This project, the new Porterville Courthouse, will become the South Justice Center of the county and will serve both limited and unlimited jurisdiction cases. In order to consolidate other court functions into the two regional justice centers, the court will divide the functions at the Tulare-Pixley and Dinuba locations into the North and South Justice Centers. Because of limited expansion options at the existing Porterville Government Center location, the new facility will be located on an independent site.
In August 2009, the City of Porterville agreed to sell to the state its 7.4-acre property at 300 East Olive Avenue, formerly the site of the Porterville Fairgrounds and Municipal Ballpark, for the new courthouse. In September 2009, the AOC received approval from the state Public Works Board for this acquisition. The real estate transaction closed escrow in December 2009. The City plans to relocate the fairgrounds to a location near the airport.
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance
The AOC is the lead agency for preparation of an environmental report to comply with CEQA.
June 4, 2009, to July 3, 2009: Draft Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration circulated. The draft study evaluated the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project and recommended mitigation measures.
June 25, 2009: Public meeting held.
In response to public comments, the AOC completed a Final Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration (3.2 MB).
On August 4, 2009, the AOC filed a Notice of Determination, thereby completing the CEQA process.
Construction Manager at Risk
Due to significant projected population growth in the Porterville area over the next 20 years, the Superior Court of Tulare County has envisioned the need to create two main service regions: a North Justice Center in Visalia and a South Justice Center based in Porterville. The new nine-courtroom, three-story courthouse with a basement level will consolidate current court operations now located in the Porterville Government Center and the Tulare-Pixley Court Building, which is slated to close on September 1, 2012. The new courthouse will replace facilities that are overcrowded, have numerous physical and functional inefficiencies, and suffer from safety and security issues.
What is the plan for the new courthouse?
This project will serve the county’s growing need for court services, provide space for necessary expansion, enhance security, and consolidate court operations, enabling the court to greatly improve access and services for the southern half of the county.
The new nine-courtroom, 96,000 square-foot courthouse will be located in downtown Porterville at 300 East Olive Avenue. This is the former site of the Porterville Fairgrounds and the Municipal Ballpark. The City of Porterville sold the state several smaller properties totaling 8.1 acres with plans to relocate the fairgrounds to a site near the airport.
Was renovation considered before the plan to build a new courthouse was decided on?
Constructed in 1959 and expanded in 1974, the Porterville Government Center is a two-story masonry building with limited growth potential. The three-courtroom courthouse is far too small to meet the needs of the county’s growing population. Also, the Government Center and the soon-to-close Tulare-Pixley Court Building have numerous functional and efficiency problems which include:
Who is the AOC, and why are they managing this project? What is the Judicial Council?
The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is the staff arm of the Judicial Council of California. 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 AOC is responsible for planning, acquisition, design, renovation and construction of court facilities. The new courthouse will be owned by the judicial branch.
How has the local community had input regarding the courthouse project?
During the site selection and acquisition phase, local members of the Project Advisory Group (including members of the Tulare Superior Court, local government representatives and other justice partners) viewed and ranked prospective sites based on standard criteria. In addition, the California Environmental Quality Act process enabled the public to review and comment on the environmental report before it was finalized. Community meetings were also held about the archeological study that was done on the site.Court leaders also previewed the courthouse’s design at City Council meetings.
What will happen to the current courthouse when the new courthouse is completed?
As the new South County Justice Center nears completion in the fall of 2013, the Judicial Council and the County will work together to explore options for use of the space that the court will be vacating in the current courthouse. More information.
Who is the construction manager at risk on the project?
In business since 1890, Sundt Construction, Inc. is 100 percent employee-owned and operated. It also has one of the most extensive employee training and development programs in the construction industry. The company has completed numerous educational, commercial, and civic construction projects, including courthouses in Mammoth Lakes, Kings County, and the Richard E. Arnason Justice Center in Pittsburg. Sundt has won numerous awards for its work in the public sector including the National Design-Build Excellence Award for Educational Facilities.
How was the contractor selected?
The AOC uses the construction manager at risk (CMAR) method for delivery of major capital projects such as the new Tulare courthouse. The competitive selection process factors in qualitative criteria, such as the firm’s experience, as well as the contractor’s fee. The CMAR was retained early in the project for preconstruction services. Following a competitive bid for all subcontracts and the approval to award, the CMAR became the general contractor for the project. For this competitive selection, the AOC received 12 submissions and conducted interviews with 6 short-listed firms, from which Sundt was selected.
What are the key milestones in building the courthouse?
When will the courthouse be completed and operational?
Construction began in February 2012; the courthouse is scheduled for completion in early fall 2013.
What are the AOC’s policies with regard to local hiring and purchasing during design and construction? How did members of the public find out about those opportunities?
Once the AOC selected the construction manager at risk, that company became the general contractor on the project. Prior to the project going into construction, the contractor conducted an outreach to local subcontractors, ensuring that qualified local firms were fully aware of the bidding opportunity, process, and timeline. All qualified subcontractors, lower-tier subcontractors, and suppliers were considered.
What is the location of the new courthouse?
The new South Justice Center courthouse will be located at 300 East Olive Avenue on approximately seven acres, formerly the site of the Porterville Fairgrounds and Municipal Ballpark.
What was the process used to select the site?
The AOC worked closely with the Superior Court and with a Tulare County Courthouse Project Advisory Group that included judges, court staff and community representatives. The AOC followed a standard site selection policy and 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 this portion of Tulare County, within the confines of the project’s budget and schedule. The presiding judge signed off on a preferred and alternate site, and the site selection was approved by the Administrative Director of the Courts (who heads the AOC) and the State Public Works Board.
The Project Advisory Group for the Tulare County Courthouse included:
Why does the AOC 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 the AOC responsible for operations, maintenance, and repairs, as well as site acquisition, planning, design, and construction of capital projects that replace or renovate courthouses. The AOC works closely with each affected Superior Court and justice agency stakeholders throughout the process of replacing or renovating courthouses. By Rules of Court, the AOC involves the public primarily through the Project Advisory Group, although depending on the needs of the project, the AOC also seeks direct public input at various stages. County officials were closely involved in the siting process.
There were reports that archaeological artifacts or human remains might have been buried on the site of the new courthouse. What steps did the AOC take to safeguard any cultural resources?
After the CEQA report but before the start of any construction, the AOC conducted an archaeological survey of the courthouse site. After consulting with the Native American Heritage Commission in 2011, the AOC engaged a professional archaeology firm, which conducted a four-day investigation, testing at 37 different locations across the site. No human remains or culturally significant findings were discovered. A community meeting was held about the findings and the report was presented to the public for comment.
What environmental review was conducted on the site before it was developed
The AOC is the lead agency for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In April 2009, the AOC issued a final mitigated negative declaration for the project. The mitigated negative declaration evaluates the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project and recommends mitigation measures. Some of the mitigation measures applied during construction include watering disturbed earth to severely limit dust emissions, establishing protection zones around endangered wildlife and vegetation, and protecting the areas archaeological past, should the need arise.
Will the new building be energy efficient?
Yes. The building has been designed with attention to sustainability. Energy-efficiency features include a solar panel array on the roof and a system to store ice at night, taking advantage of off-peak power to minimize energy use in the building’s air-conditioning system. The building’s sustainability features will qualify it to receive LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
How is the new courthouse being funded?
The courthouse is being funded without impact to the state’s General Fund. The funds come from statewide increases in court user fees, authorized by the Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002. This bill approved the issuance of lease-revenue bonds to fund this project, to be repaid by court fees, penalties, and assessments. Bonds were sold for this project in fall 2011.
How did the state arrive at its budget for the project?
The AOC develops 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, the AOC adds 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?
The Porterville, Tulare County courthouse was authorized under the Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002, which transferred responsibility for court facilities—their repair, renovation and construction—from counties to the state. To fund desperately needed renovations and repairs, penalty assessments and parking offense penalties were increased, and civil filing fee surcharges were created. 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. The state sold bonds for this project in November 2011. Once the courthouse is completed and occupied, the same revenue stream will repay those bonds over 35 years. This means that funds from other court jurisdictions will support Tulare County’s critical needs in years to come.
What is the impact of the state’s current budget crisis on this project?
The recent cost-cutting initiatives on statewide court construction, including reassessment of 13 projects and budget trimming on 24 other projects, will not affect construction already underway on the new Tulare County courthouse.
Who is the architect on the project?
Founded in 1986, CO Architects is now one of the largest firms in Los Angeles. The firm has broad experience in the civic, academic, science and technology, and healthcare sectors. CO Architects is also the architect on the Southeast Los Angeles Courthouse. The firm brings extensive experience in sustainable design to the project. CO Architects was recently ranked ninth as a Top Green Design Firm by California Construction.
How was the architect selected?
The AOC uses a competitive selection process, factoring in qualitative criteria, such as the firm’s experience, as well as its fee. The architectural company is retained early in the project to begin preliminary drawings.
What are the key milestones in designing the courthouse?
Where can I see renderings of the new courthouse?
Renderings are posted on the project web page under the GALLERY tab.
Will the new courthouse be energy efficient and sustainably designed?
All courthouse projects are designed to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a national standard for sustainable design. Energy efficiency is among its key criteria.
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