Stanislaus County, New Modesto Courthouse

New Modesto Courthouse

Superior Court of California, County of Stanislaus

Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2010-2011

The current Modesto Courthouse is inadequate to the court's needs

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

Vital Statistics
Courtrooms: 26
Square footage: 301,464
Current authorized project budget: $262,483,000 
More information

In anticipation of additional cost-cutting measures, all facts are subject to change.

The Superior Court of Stanislaus County provides services to county residents at the Modesto Courthouse and Hall of Records and from several leased facilities in downtown Modesto, as well as two single-courtroom facilities in outlying towns—Ceres and Turlock. All of these facilities have numerous deficiencies. They are overcrowded, lack security features to current standards, and hinder the court's efficiency by dispersing services over many locations.

The proposed project would create a full-service courthouse in Modesto to replace seven court facilities - five in Modesto and the two outlying courthouses. Consolidating these facilities will enable the court to increase efficiency by retiring leases and centralizing operations. The project would improve security by providing enhanced entrance screening, separate hallways for the public, staff, and in-custody defendants, and properly sized holding areas for in-custody defendants.

The project would include space for four new judgeships and would enable the court to provide basic services currently not possible due to space restrictions, such as a self-help center; appropriately sized public lobby and service counters; a properly sized and equipped jury assembly room and jury deliberation rooms, and rooms for family court mediation and attorney/client interviews, as well as a children's waiting room.

On May 9, 2013, a preferred site was selected for the New Stanislaus Courthouse. The site totals approximately 3.5 acres and includes the city block bounded by G and H Streets and 9th and 10th Streets in downtown Modesto. The site also includes a portion of the block bounded by H and I Streets and 9th and 10th Streets for parking. In November 2014, the State Public Works Board approved acquisition of the preferred site. On December 23, escrow closed on the downtown site, completing site acquisition for the new Stanislaus County Courthouse. The project now moves into architectural design, which is expected to take roughly two years.

Architecture/Engineering Firm

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP

Construction Manager at Risk

To be selected, schedule TBD

Subcontractor Bidding

Schedule TBD


What is the project's current status?

The New Stanislaus County Courthouse is in architectural design-preliminary plans. The overall project has a current expected completion date of 2020. Timeline of progress to date:

Why do we need a new courthouse?

The Superior Court of Stanislaus County serves residents through seven separate facilities located throughout downtown Modesto and in the nearby cities of Ceres and Turlock. Built in 1960, the Modesto courthouse and the adjacent Hall of Records (circa 1938) have significant security issues as well as numerous deficiencies under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Three leased facilities, located in two privately-owned buildings and one county-owned building, were not designed for court use and experience security problems typical of multi-tenant facilities. The branch courthouses in Ceres and Turlock require county residents to leave Modesto and travel up to 14 miles to obtain these court services. Altogether, the seven separate facilities are significantly overcrowded and have numerous physical, functional, and efficiency problems as well as safety and security issues, hindering the court’s ability to adequately deliver court services to county residents.

What is the plan for the new courthouse?

Located in downtown Modesto, the new courthouse will house 26 courtrooms in 301,464 square feet of space, consolidating court operations from seven existing facilities into one courthouse by replacing current court facilities located in Modesto, Ceres, and Turlock. The new, modern courthouse will eliminate severe overcrowding and provide adequate space for court services, administration, security operations, and a holding area with a secure sallyport for the transportation of in-custody detainees. With all court services under one roof, the new, modern courthouse will become a one-stop location for county residents.

Was renovation considered before the plan to build a new courthouse was decided on?

Current court operations are spread between seven separate facilities, making access to court services unwieldy and inefficient. Both the Modesto Courthouse and the Hall of Records have severe fire and life safety deficiencies and no room for expansion, so renovation is not an option. The main courthouse and ancillary facilities have many functional, efficiency, and security challenges which include:

  • Deputies escort in-custody detainees in chains through non-secure public corridors. They are then held in jury rooms while they await trial.
  • Service counters, courtrooms, and restrooms do not meet accessibility requirements.
  • Judges’ chambers are accessible from the public hallways, creating a security risk.
  • Staff area is inadequate in size and overcrowded. The file room is too small to house all active court files.
  • Additional problems with the court facility buildings include inadequate HVAC, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, elevators and security systems, and outdated fire alarm and fire suppression systems.

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?

The Project Advisory Group is the main source of ongoing community input to the project. This broad-based group includes members of the business community, the City and County, justice partners including the District Attorney’s office and the Public Defender’s office, and the Superior Court. Members include:

  • Hon. Loretta M. Begen, Presiding Judge, Superior Court of Stanislaus County
  • Mr. Alan Cassidy, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Stanislaus County
  • Hon. Ricardo Cordova, Assistant Presiding Judge, Superior Court of Stanislaus County
  • Mr. Tim Fedorchak, Senior Management Consultant, Stanislaus County
  • Ms. Rebecca Fleming, Court Executive Officer, Superior Court of Stanislaus County
  • Lt. Cliff Harper, Court Services and Civil Division Commander, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department
  • Mr. Matthew K. Hawkins, Partner, McCormick Barstow LLP, representing the Stanislaus County Bar Association
  • Hon. Jack M. Jacobson, Superior Court of Stanislaus County
  • Ms. Maureen Keller, Chief Deputy Public Defender, Stanislaus County
  • Mr. Steven Mitchell, Principal Planner, City of Modesto
  • Mr. George Osner, Principal, AICP Urban Planning
  • Mr. Cecil Russell, CEO, Chamber of Commerce
  • Mr. Brent Sinclair, Director of Community and Economic Development, City of Modesto
  • Ms. Patricia Hill Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Stanislaus County
  • Ms. Ronna Uliana, Chief Fiscal Officer, Superior Court of Stanislaus County
  • Ms. S. Pearl Freeman, Design and Construction Manager, Judicial Council Capital Program
  • Ms. Mary Bustamante, Judicial Council Real Estate and Facilities Management

During the site selection phase, the Project Advisory Group viewed and ranked prospective sites based on standard criteria.

What will happen to the current courthouse when the new courthouse is completed?

Leases will be terminated for the three facilities in downtown Modesto. It has yet to be determined what will happen to the state-owned facilities.

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What is the location of the new courthouse?

The new courthouse will be located on the city block bounded by G and H Streets and 9th and 10th Streets in downtown Modesto. The site was chosen for its close proximity to freeway access, the transit center, public parking, and the downtown core. The zoning height limits allow for a multi-floor structure, providing more options for the building's functional design.

What was the process used to select the site?

Judicial Council staff worked closely with the Superior Court and with the Project Advisory Group, which includes judges, court staff, representatives from city and county government, justice partners, and the business community, to determine the preferred and alternate sites. Staff 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 Stanislaus County, within the confines of the project’s budget and schedule. A cost reduction subcommittee of the Court Facilities Advisory Committee, which oversees the court construction program statewide, directed the project team to pursue the city block bounded by G and H Streets and 9th and 10th Streets in downtown Modesto as the preferred site. The presiding judge signed off on the preferred and alternate site, and the site selection was approved by the council's Administrative Director of the Courts and the State Public Works Board (SPWB), who also reviewed and approved the acquisition arrangements. In December 2014, escrow closed on the 10th Street site, completing site acquisition. The project now moves into the preliminary plans phase of architectural design, which is expected to take approximately two years. 

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.



Was an environmental review completed for the project? Who is the lead agency?

The Judicial Council is the lead agency for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In August 2013, council staff completed the environmental review process for the preferred site on 10th Street by filing a Notice of Exemption under CEQA's categorical exemption for an in-fill development project.

Will the new building be energy-efficient?

Yes. The building will be designed with attention to sustainability. Energy-efficiency features include advanced conservation methods in heating and cooling, artificial lighting, and plumbing. The building’s sustainability features are expected to qualify it to receive a LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.



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 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 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, the state 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?

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. 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 the new Modesto Courthouse in years to come.

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 is the architect on the project?

The San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP is the architect selected to design the Modesto Courthouse. Established in 1936, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP provides architecture and sustainable design services, as well as building services, engineering, and urban design and planning. The company has won numerous awards from the American Institute of Architecture as well as the American Architect Award from Chicago Athenaeum. Its projects have included the recently completed; new courthouse for the Superior Court of San Bernardino County and the new federal courthouse in Los Angeles.

How was the architect selected?

Judicial Council staff use 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?

  • A Request for Proposals is issued to find and secure the best qualified architect firm to begin the design process.
  • Once site acquisition is completed, the architects complete design development, floor plans, and elevations, illustrating 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.
  • Working drawings are approved and the project moves into construction.

Where can I see renderings of the new courthouse?

The first phase of architectural design for this project is expected to take approximately two years. 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?

This project will be designed to qualify for a LEED Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. This is the national standard for sustainable design. Numerous energy-saving features will make the courthouse more economical to operate over time.



What is the construction delivery method, and who will build the project?

Typical of most courthouses in the Judicial Council Capital Program, this project will be constructed by a Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) who provides a guaranteed maximum price. This construction delivery method, approved by the Judicial Council, includes the CMAR during the design process to provide scheduling, cost and constructability input, and during the construction phase to act as the general contractor on project. A CMAR has yet to be selected.

How will the contractor be selected?

The competitive selection process factors 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 for the project.

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 general contractor.
  • 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 early 2017; the courthouse is scheduled for completion in 2019. This schedule is subject to change.

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 on the project. Prior to the project going 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.


Contact Info

Judicial Council of California
Capital Program

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

Customer Service Center:
888-225-3583 or
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