Imperial County, New El Centro Courthouse

El Centro Courthouse

Superior Court of California, County of Imperial

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

Criminal law cases would move from the historic courthouse in El Centro

Current Status
This project is in architectural design-preliminary plans with a current expected completion date of 3 Q 2017.
Vital Statistics
Courtrooms: 4
Square footage: 47,512
Current authorized project budget: $46,465,000 
More information

In anticipation of additional cost-cutting measures, all facts are subject to change.
The Superior Court of California, Imperial County, provides criminal court functions from two facilities: the historic Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro and a branch courthouse in Brawley. The separation of criminal calendars in two locations creates operational inefficiencies and is a detriment to the administration of justice.

The main courthouse is the historic Imperial County Courthouse, built in 1923. Four of its seven courtrooms are dedicated to criminal calendars. The courthouse in Brawley hosts criminal proceedings when courtrooms are unavailable in the historic courthouse, which is often. In both facilities, the courtrooms are undersized and overcrowded, and have life safety, security, and accessibly deficiencies.

This project will provide a new, four-courtroom facility that will consolidate all criminal court functions in one location. The Imperial County Courthouse will continue to hear civil, family, small claims, and traffic cases. The Brawley courthouse will be closed.

The approximately 47,000 square-foot courthouse will be built on a 3.6-acre site located on Wake Avenue between Merrill Center Drive and Thomas Drive, midway between the historic courthouse and juvenile hall. The project is funded through court user fees, penalties, and assessments rather than taxpayer revenues.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance

The Judicial Council complied with CEQA by filing a categorical exemption for this project's preferred site on August 12, 2011.

Architect's rendering: Entrance, New Imperial County Courthouse

Architect's rendering: Entrance, New Imperial Courthouse

Architect's rendering: New Imperial County Courthouse, view from Wake Avenue

Architect's rendering: New Imperial County Courthouse, view from Wake Avenue

Architecture/Engineering Firm

Safdie Rabines

Construction Manager at Risk

Hensel Phelps Construction

Subcontractor bidding

Schedule TBD

May 2015

What is the current status of the project?

The New Imperial County Criminal Courthouse in El Centro is in the architectural design-working drawings phase, with an expected construction completion date in winter 2018. This schedule is subject to change.


Why does Imperial County need a new courthouse?

The Superior Court of Imperial County provides criminal court services from two county-owned facilities: the historic courthouse in El Centro and a branch courthouse in Brawley. The historic courthouse, built in 1923, is the main courthouse and handles the majority of criminal cases, along with civil, small claims, family court, and traffic calendars. The Brawley Courthouse hears a variety of cases, including misdemeanor, small claims and traffic, and criminal proceedings when courtrooms in the historic courthouse are unavailable, which is often. The separation of criminal calendars in two locations creates operational inefficiencies. In addition, the court’s space in both facilities is overcrowded and has significant seismic, physical, functional, accessibility, and efficiency problems that hinder the court’s ability to provide adequate access to justice to Imperial County residents. Examples include:

  • Deputies escort in-custody detainees in chains through public corridors and stairways.
  • Judicial and prisoner transportation parking is accessible to the public, creating security risks.
  • Most features, such as service counters, courtrooms, and restrooms are non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Other issues include inadequate systems for HVAC, mechanical, and plumbing, seismic issues, and inefficient working conditions for court employees.

What is the plan for the new courthouse?

The new Imperial County Criminal Courthouse in El Centro will increase efficiency by consolidating all criminal court operations under one roof in a modern, secure building that will better serve Imperial County residents. It will include 4 courtrooms in approximately 47,000 square feet. The new courthouse will provide appropriately sized courtrooms, jury deliberation rooms, an adequately sized self-help center, attorney/client conference rooms, and ADA accessibility. Enhanced security features will include entrance screening of all court users, a secure sallyport, adequately sized in-custody holding and improved fire and life safety. The historic courthouse will continue to hear civil, family, small claims, and traffic cases. The Brawley Courthouse will be closed.

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

The Judicial Council evaluated renovation of the historic courthouse and found that it would not be feasible, due to the building’s space limits, security issues, and physical problems. In addition, the County holds title to the courthouse, and in most cases, the state cannot renovate a building that 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?

The Project Advisory Group, required by Rules of Court and state law, is 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. In addition, 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 new courthouse is completed and the criminal calendars move out of the historic and Brawley Courthouses, the court will use the extra space in the historic courthouse to address its own space shortfall issues. The Brawley Courthouse will be closed, and the rest of its court services will be moved to the historic courthouse.

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Where will the new courthouse be located?

The new courthouse will be located in El Centro, on a 3.6-acre site on Wake Avenue between Merrill Center Drive and Thomas Drive. In March 2011, the State Public Works Board approved acquisition of the property for $1.5 million.

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 Imperial 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 Judicial Council is the lead agency for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Staff evaluated the proposed project and determined the project would not create significant environmental impacts on this previously developed site. A Notice of Exemption was filed on August 12, 2011.

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 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 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 and repairs, criminal penalties and assessments, parking offense penalties, and civil filing fees were created or increased. 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. When the project is ready for construction, the state will sell bonds to finance the project. Once the 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, $1.5 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 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?

Safdie Rabines Architects was selected to design the new Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro. A global firm based in San Diego, the company provides architecture and interior design services and large urban master planning for civic, education, residential, infrastructure, and mixed-use projects. Safdie Rabines has won many awards for its work, including the 2014 American Institute of Architects Design Award, Institutional Special Recognition.

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.
  • 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?

Hensel Phelps Construction Company was selected as the construction manager at risk (CMAR) on the project. In business for more than 70 years, Hensel Phelps has completed numerous California public projects, including courthouses, and is consistently ranked among the top general contractors and construction managers in the nation by McGraw-Hill’s Engineering News-Record. Two of the firm’s California public projects won McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2010 Best of the Best Awards, a national competition that recognizes design and construction excellence. The firm is also building the new Yolo courthouse in Woodland, and the new Santa Clara family courthouse in San Jose.

How was the CMAR selected?

The CMAR was 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 winter 2016; the courthouse is scheduled for completion in winter 2018. This schedule is subject to change.


New Releases
Two Sites Approved (3/11/11)
Potential Sites Selected (9/29/10)
Site finalized (11/10/11)

Historical Documents
Fact Sheet
Project Feasibility Report

Contact Info

Judicial Council of California
Capital Program

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

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888-225-3583 or
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