Not only was Nevada City’s courthouse not one of the seven courthouse projects eliminated Friday from among more than 30 statewide construction projects, but more details have surfaced on project’s future.
The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will study Nevada City’s plans to renovate the existing courthouse over the next six to eight months, according to documents presented this week to the Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state’s judicial branch,
Plans for a renovation, developed by a group of Nevada City and county officials, are a departure from what was originally budgeted as a $108 million rebuild of the 148-year-old facility that sits overlooking downtown Nevada City.
In 2009, the AOC determined that the courthouse is “unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient.” However, plans on how to alleviate that prognosis, which shifted from completely demolishing and replacing the courthouse perhaps elsewhere to simply renovating it, drew the ire of locals.
“This is a complete reversal from what we were dealing with,” said Nevada City resident John Givens, a prominent voice in the courthouse debate.
The working group-endorsed renovation proposal instead calls for six courtrooms and the support office space in the two existing structures.
“Whether they ultimately take that advice will ultimately be dependent on the analyses (AOC staff) conduct,” said Nevada County Courthouse Chief Executive Officer Sean Metroka, a member of the group of Nevada City and county officials who proposed the renovation.
“Some of the working group were skeptical on the numbers,” Metroka said.
The AOC came under scathing scrutiny when a group of current and former judges published a report that described the agency as dysfunctional, controlling, deceptive, overstaffed and top heavy with high-salaried bureaucrats. This scrutiny was reiterated by an independent audit that made 137 recommendations about improving the program’s policies, processes and procedures.
Additionally, the AOC outlined the need for additional time to “work closely with the community” on design for renovations in its report to the judicial council this week.
“Did we become a poster child of what a top-down approach can do?” Givens said. “Are we then going to be a testing ground for a bottom-up approach?”
There are not yet any specifics for a community involvement plan or schedule yet, said AOC spokeswoman Teresa Ruano in an email to The Union. “We will start with the Project Advisory Group and work with them to engage the public when it becomes appropriate,” Ruano said.
Metroka envisions working closely with Nevada City, county and courthouse officials to sculpt the specifics of the renovation plan.
“They are well aware that this community, perhaps more than any other in California, is very involved in its appearance of its downtown,” Metroka said of the Judicial Council and the AOC.
“I think they are trying to let us know they are going to involve the community in this process if the project is actually to proceed and be allocated funding,” Metroka said. “They won’t do that in a vacuum, I believe, but that is just my speculation.”
If the analysis is successful in allocating funding by 2014-15, Metroka predicted the occupancy of a renovated courthouse would not occur until at least 2017-18.
“It’s going to be 10-year process,” Metroka said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.
“This is a complete reversal from what we were dealing with.”
— NC resident John Givens