With the state’s judicial branch fighting for funds for ongoing courthouse projects, proponents of retaining the Nevada County Courthouse will seek an unspecified allocation from the Nevada City Council to independently take the first step toward revamping the 140-year-old facility — a project the state indefinitely postponed in January.
Proponents argue that an independent effort to complete an estimated $94,000 feasibility and cost engineering study will make the proposed project more attractive than other statewide projects vying for judicial funds that have diminished in recent years.
Nevada County’s courthouse was one of four out of 30 projects that was “indefinitely delayed” in January, just months after it had been green-lit for the initial study.
At that time, judicial administrators said that Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget raided $550 million from the general fund originally committed in 2007 to Long Beach’s new Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse, leaving the courts to find funds for the project just six months or so from when the first bill would be due.
Since the Administrative Office of the Courts first determined Nevada City’s courthouse is “unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient” in 2009, more than $5 billion in funding originally planned for statewide courthouse construction projects was instead borrowed, swept to the state’s general fund or redirected to court operations — a process that forced the judicial branch to slowly whittle its project list down.
In the midst of that trimming, various Nevada County voices debated whether an all-new courthouse was needed, perhaps at another location, or if the current historic building could be renovated or rebuilt altogether. Nevada City’s government has advocated to retain the current site, saying the judicial function there is vital to the historic downtown.
In August 2012, various Nevada City parties presented a united plan on how the courthouse could be renovated using only the existing land — a plan they estimated would save at least $40 million from the initially outlined $108 million project. This plan was partially attributed to the courthouse making the cut of 30 statewide projects recommended to proceed — until the Long Beach courthouse issue prompted more project cuts.
“By completing the study, we will be in a better position when funding becomes available to the judicial council,” City Manager David Brennan told the council members at their last meeting in April.
“We are going to be competing with everyone else, and we think this might put us one step ahead,” Brennan noted.
Members of the local courthouse retention committee are looking to proactively fund the feasibility and cost engineering study.
“The Courthouse Committee believes that proceeding with the feasibility study will position the courthouse project in a-ready-to-proceed mode into the design phase, while resolving all the previous debates regarding appropriate siting of the project,” noted Brennan in a report to the council.
The Nevada City committee has already met with Michael Ross and Associates, a firm that has performed numerous architectural studies for the AOC. A subsequent meeting focused on determining the scope of work, with Ross and Paul Menard from the AOC’s project management group, Brennan said in his report.
The scope of work has been finalized, Brennan notes, to include a survey of existing buildings, the preparation of engineering reports, a review of possible temporary courthouse sites for the construction period, applying court program needs to existing site, preparing the site plan, preparing a comparative cost study, conducting a review process and finalizing the report.
“Comments from Paul Menard of the AOC indicate that there would be positive support for the results of this study,” Brennan noted in the report.
Funding the $94,000 study will be difficult, Brennan concedes. However, he argues that the courthouse project would benefit all county residents, have an interim benefit to the building industry and provide financial relief to the county in terms of building maintenance costs and a return of capital from the sale of Nevada County’s share of courthouse buildings to the AOC.
Other interested parties, such as historic preservationists and economic development groups, could also be potential contributors to funding the feasibility study, Brennan notes.
The study would proceed through to completion unless there were unmitigated findings that would prevent a cost-effective construction project to be completed on the site, Brennan notes. In that case, the study would cease, and the cost would be held to that phase in the study. It is likely that a minimum of $50,000 will be expended.
Council will consider this item, as well as others, at its Wednesday meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Nevada City Hall, located at 317 Broad St.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.