Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2009-2010
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.
Williams + Paddon
Construction Manager at Risk
What is the project's current status?
The New Merced County Courthouse in Los Banos is in architectural design-working drawings, with a current expected completion date of 3 Q 2016.
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 in Los Banos has significant deficiencies which adversely impact access to justice. The facility is unsafe, substandard in size, overcrowded with many physical conditions which create impediments to the administration of justice. The functional study of the courthouse indicates that the court needs more than five times the square footage it currently occupies in order to meet current design standards for proper security, public access, and operational efficiency.
For example, approximately 330 people enter the building on a daily basis. The public enters and exits the building via a single set of double doors, making ingress and egress very congested. The building lacks a jury assembly room, so current juror check-in and assembly take place in the hallways. The building lacks secure hallways and holding cells adjacent to courtrooms, so in-custody defendants use the same hallways as the public and court staff. The court's space is also not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The building has a very low seismic rating, and the site has very limited parking for court staff and public use.
Where will the new courthouse be located?
The new courthouse will be located on 4.6 acres at G Street on the north side of Mercey Springs Road. Acquisition was completed in January 2012.
Who decided where the new courthouse will be located?
In deciding where to locate the new courthouse, Judicial Council staff are working closely with the Superior Court and a Project Advisory Group, which includes members of the court, and representatives from the legal community, the Sheriff’s Office, the County of Merced, and the City of Los Banos. Council staff and the Project Advisory Group followed a standard site selection policy and process. The process involves objectively defining criteria for potential courthouse sites, evaluating all potential available sites, and selecting at least two sites that meet agreed-upon criteria for the proposed new courthouse for the Los Banos area within the limits of the project’s budget and schedule. With the assistance of a local real estate broker, council staff identified possible sites, and the Project Advisory Group ranked the sites according to the selection criteria.
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 justice agency stakeholders throughout the process of replacing or renovating courthouses. By Rules of Court, staff involve the public primarily through the Project Advisory Group, although depending on the needs of the project, public input may be sought at various stages.
Why is money being spent on a new courthouse when there are so many other local needs and there is a state budget crisis?
The project is solely funded and managed by the State of California. Funds have been specifically approved by the state Legislature for courthouse construction. These funds come from increased court fees and fines; therefore, construction of new courthouses is paid by “user fees” and not money from the state's General Fund.
What is the impact of the state’s current budget crisis on this project?
The state Budget Act for fiscal year 2011–2012 contained unprecedented cuts to the judicial branch budget in general and to the account that funds SB 1407 projects in particular. Taking account of the state’s continuing fiscal crisis, in April 2012, the Judicial Council approved cost-reduction measures affecting all projects funded by SB 1407. News release.
As a result, this project will be required to undergo a significant reduction in its hard construction budget. This project has been designated a cost-reduction demonstration project, which means it will use lower-cost construction methods, such as tilt-up construction. This web page will be updated with a revised budget and schedule once approved by the judicial branch as well as the state executive and legislative branches.
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 and 40 other projects throughout the state. The bonds will be repaid with court fees, penalties, and assessments.
How will the local community have input regarding the courthouse project?
Key community leaders have been involved as members of the Project Advisory Group; members are listed on the project's web page. Council staff will conduct public information meetings at several stages in the project.
How many courtrooms will be in the new courthouse? Will the new courthouse provide space for any county departments?
The proposed courthouse is approximately 29,500 square feet and includes two courtrooms. Judicial Council staff are not authorized to use any SB 1407 funds for construction of county facilities.
Will new County offices be located close to the new courthouse?
The site was selected, in part, because of its adjacent space for buildings to house County justice partners. However, the construction and operation of a new County building would be the County’s responsibility.
Who will design the building?
Council staff conducted a search for an architecture and engineering firm for this project. The request for qualifications went out January 29, 2010; proposals were due March 3, 2010. Staff reviewed numerous proposals from highly qualified firms. A short list of candidates was announced in April 2010. Council staff and the Court participated in interviews of the short-listed candidate firms. On June 30, 2010, staff announced the final selection of Williams + Paddon Architects.
Will the project hire local contractors and use local suppliers? How will this help our community?
When the project is in architectural design, council staff will select a construction manager, currently scheduled for summer 2011. The construction manager will perform local outreach to ensure that qualified local subcontractors and suppliers have the opportunity to bid on construction work when that phase nears. These projects provide valuable economic stimulus in local communities—the Los Banos Courthouse project is estimated to create more than 750 direct and indirect jobs. Construction is scheduled for early 2013 through early 2014.
Will the new courthouse be energy-efficient and sustainably designed?
Yes. All courthouse projects to be funded by SB 1407 are being designed to receive LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a national standard for sustainable design, and energy efficiency is among its key criteria.
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