Tuolumne County, New Sonora Courthouse

Sonora Courthouse

Superior Court of California, County of Tuolumne

Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2009-2010

The Historic Courthouse, built in 1898, is inadequate to current needs

Current Status
This project is in architectural design-preliminary plans with a current expected completion date of 4 Q 2019.

Vital Statistics
Courtrooms: 5
Square footage: 61,537
Current authorized project budget: $64,596,000 
More information

In anticipation of additional cost-cutting measures, all facts are subject to change
The Superior Court of California, County of Tuolumne is located in the county seat, Sonora, in three buildings located two blocks apart. The three-story Historic Courthouse at 41 West Yaney Street houses three courtrooms. Built in 1898, the courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. The nearby Washington Street Branch houses two courtrooms. The Jury Assembly Room is in a leased building across the street from the Washington Street Branch.

These facilities are overcrowded, physically deficient, and significantly lacking in security features to the current standards. For example, all of these facilities lack holding cells for in-custody defendants. Also, separation of court facilities in three buildings creates operational inefficiencies. For example, court records are maintained in the Historic Courthouse, but must be hand-carried between the other two facilities.

This project will consolidate operations from these three buildings into a modern, secure courthouse for centralized criminal, civil, traffic, juvenile, and probate proceedings. It will also enable the court to expand basic services it currently cannot provide due to space restrictions: appropriately-sized jury assembly and deliberation rooms located within the courthouse, a self-help center, a children's waiting room, family court mediation, attorney interview/witness waiting rooms, and secure circulation for court staff and visitors, as well as in-custody holding.

The new courthouse will be located just outside the Sonora city limits in the County’s future Law and Justice Center, bounded by Old Wards Ferry Road and Highway 108, where the County also plans to house the jail, the sheriff’s offices, and juvenile justice facilities, providing improved access to justice for Tuolumne County residents. Site acquisition was completed in April 2012.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance

The Judicial Council is the lead agency for preparation of an environmental report to comply with CEQA.


The County of Tuolumne was the original lead agency for the CEQA environmental review done on the site for the new courthouse located in the county's Law and Justice Center. The Judicial Council adopted the county's existing EIR prior to the acquisition of the property.

November 23, 2011: The Judicial Council filed its own Notice of Determination for the courthouse project.

Architecture/Engineering Firm


Construction Manager at Risk

To be selected, schedule TBD

Subcontractor Bidding

Schedule TBD

February 2015

What is the current status of the project?

The new Tuolumne County Courthouse is in the architectural design-preliminary plans phase, with an expected construction completion date in fall 2019. This schedule is subject to change.


Why does Tuolumne County need a new courthouse?

The Superior Court of Tuolumne County serves residents through three separate facilities located in downtown Sonora. Built in 1898, the Historic Courthouse—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—is the main courthouse where civil, family, probate, and small claims cases are heard. Located two blocks away, the Washington Street Branch hosts criminal and traffic calendars; the Court leases jury assembly space in a commercial building across the street. Neither of the County-owned courthouses meets modern operational standards: They are overcrowded and have seismic, efficiency, and functional deficiencies, limiting access to justice for Tuolumne County residents. Examples include:

  • Lack of a secure sallyport means in-custody detainees line up on a sidewalk to enter the building through the same door the public uses.
  • Those in custody are escorted through corridors shared by visitors and court staff and held in unsecured court space while they await court appearance, creating security risks.
  • Becuase there are no elevators, the public, court staff, and in-custody detainees must use steep, hazardous stairs to reach courtrooms and court services. People with disabilities must be assisted up the stairs.
  • The courthouses have other numerous accessibility issues, making them non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • At the Washington Street Branch, judicial chambers face the street, and judges are visible through large, non-secure glass windows.
  • Other issues include inadequate systems for HVAC, mechanical, plumbing, fire prevention, and life safety and cramped inefficient working conditions for court employees.

What is the plan for the new courthouse?

The project will consolidate all court operations and services into a modern, secure courthouse with five courtrooms to 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 holding cells for in-custody defendants, and a secure sallyport. The project will also provide adequate space for services including a self-help center, appropriately sized jury assembly and deliberation rooms, a children's waiting room, family court mediation and attorney interview/ witness waiting rooms, and security screening for all court users. The new courthouse will be located just outside the Sonora city limits in the County’s future Law and Justice Center, where the County also plans to house the jail, the sheriff’s offices, and juvenile justice facilities, providing improved access to justice for Tuolumne 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 Historic Courthouse and the Washington Street Branch are outdated and both have severe functional, compliance, and seismic issues. In addition, Tuolumne County owns both facilities, and the state cannot, in the majority of cases, renovate buildings 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.

More information:

Judicial Council
Judicial Council Staff

How has the local community had input regarding the courthouse project

As part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, the Judicial Council issued a Notice of Intent to Adopt an Addendum to an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in September 2011. The CEQA documents included a full project description, as well as access to the original EIR prepared by the County as part of its Law and Justice Center project.  The public comment period on the Addendum/EIR ran from September 23, 2011 to October 24, 2011.  The CEQA process and public comment period was completed prior to site acquisition approval.

Following the completion of the CEQA process, 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 of community, legal and government 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 Court vacates the Historic Courthouse and the Washington Street Branch, the County, which owns the two Court facilities, will decide what to do with the properties. The lease for the jury assembly space in the privately owned commercial building will be terminated.

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Where will the new courthouse be located?

The state acquired a 4.33-acre site for the new courthouse in an area long set aside by the County for its new Law and Justice Center. The property, just beyond the city limits, is bound by Old Wards Ferry Road and Highway 108. Tuolumne County owns the land surrounding the courthouse site and has made significant improvements to the property, including roads and utilities, as well as site plans for incoming justice partners. The state purchased the land from the County for $800,000; the purchase was approved by the State Public Works Board.

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, legal, and government 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 Tuolumne 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 County of Tuolumne was the original lead agency for the CEQA environmental review done on the site for the new courthouse located in the County's Law and Justice Center. The Judicial Council adopted the County's existing EIR prior to acquisition of the property. On November 23, 2011, council staff filed its own Notice of Determination, completing the CEQA process.

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 are expected to 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 a “Critical 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 repairs, criminal penalties assessments, parking offense penalties, civil filing fees were created increased. This ensured a renovations, promising these projects would be paid from within court system rather than drawing on state?s General Fund or local taxes. When project ready for construction, state sell to finance project. Once 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, $1.8 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?

The Sacramento office of Lionakis was selected to design the new Tuolumne County Courthouse in Sonora. Founded by California’s First State Architect, George Sellon, in 1909, the company provides architecture, engineering, planning, interiors, graphics and sustainability design services for civic, commercial, education, and healthcare projects. An award-winning firm, Lionakis was nationally ranked in both Engineering News-Record’s Top Design Firms and Top Green Design Firms publications.

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?

  • A Request for Qualifications is issued to find and secure the best-qualified architecture firm.
  • Once site acquisition is completed, the architects begin the design, draw floor plans and elevations, and illustrate the design through renderings or scale models.
  • Once the design is complete and agreed upon, the preliminary plans are approved.
  • The design phase moves into working drawings.
  • The working drawings are approved and the project moves into construction.

Where can I see renderings of the new courthouse?

When available, renderings will be 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?

A Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) will be selected through a request for Qualifications and Proposals.

How will the CMAR be selected?

The CMAR will be 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?

Once bonds are sold for this project and it is ready to be put out to bid, the construction manager at risk will become the general contractor. Before the project goes into construction, the contractor will conduct an 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 the project is in architectural design, a Request for Proposals is issued to find and secure the best-qualified CMAR.
  • The CMAR in turn issues bid packages to qualified construction professionals to build the construction team.
  • The construction site is prepared, the foundation is poured, and the core of the building and protective shell are completed.
  • The building is enclosed and infrastructure systems are completed.
  • Interior fixtures and finishes are completed.
  • The newly constructed building undergoes quality control checks and the major systems are tested.
  • The finished new building is inspected and issued a certificate of occupancy.

When will the courthouse be completed and operational?

Construction is currently scheduled to begin in summer 2017; the courthouse is scheduled for completion in fall 2019. This schedule is subject to change.


Contact Info

Judicial Council of California
Capital Program

455 Golden Gate Avenue, 8th Floor
San Francisco, California

Customer Service Center:
888-225-3583 or csc@jud.ca.gov
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