Nevada County Courthouse renovation funds secured amid maintenance issues
September 19, 2013
As advocates garner independent funds to professionally examine the feasibility of a plan to renovate and retain the Nevada County Courthouse at its current location overlooking downtown Nevada City, the building itself has undergone a long-deferred roof repair and is suffering from an elevator malfunction.
"I think it's funny. This kind of thing happens around here all the time," said Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka. "Any time someone suggests we don't need to renovate or we don't need a new courthouse, I just have to laugh to myself because they clearly don't have to work here."
About the same time that contractors finished the $68,000 replacement of the nearly 150-year-old courthouse's roof in early September, the elevator stopped working, Metroka said.
Without the elevator, one courtroom on the third floor and two courtrooms on the second floor are no longer easily accessed by anyone with mobility challenges.
“We’re a good chunk of the way in because of Nevada City’s contribution. But we need some more support.”
Nevada City Councilman Robert Bergman
The elevator's repair falls within the service agreement with the elevator's manufacturer, Metroka said, estimating it will be running again in about four weeks.
While the cost of repair may not be an issue, Metroka said the elevator's inoperable status is being felt by court personnel.
"It is very much an imposition," Metroka said.
"We are serving everybody, but it requires much more effort to do so because some people can't get around on their own … In a building like this, everybody has to do something more than they otherwise would have to just to keep things working."
As the courthouse works around its two noticeable maintenance projects, agencies in Nevada County are buying into Nevada City's plan to jump-start the courthouse renovation project by contributing toward an independent feasibility study, instead of waiting for state funds to be allocated.
On top of Nevada City's initial $30,000 contribution toward the estimated $94,000 feasibility study, the Nevada County Contractor's Association has contributed $1,000 and the Nevada County Economic Resource Council is reportedly poised to allocate funds as well, said Nevada City Councilman Robert Bergman.
Three other private parties have also pledged funds, said Paul Matson, who chairs the Nevada City Courthouse Committee, which aims to keep the county courthouse downtown and restore its original architecture.
"There have been three other contributions, two of which are on the way and one is in the bank," Matson said. "When these come in, we'll be in over the $2,000 mark."
Nevada City has long argued that retaining the courthouse in the downtown historic district is crucial to that area's economic vitality, as many businesses rely on court-related customers to get through the week to the tourist-packed weekends.
The prospect of losing the courthouse downtown came into consideration after the Administrative Offices of the Courts determined in 2009 that it is "unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient" and outlined a $108 million budget to either rebuild or renovate the 148-year-old facility.
Two years later, just as the various parties got on the same page in countering the AOC's proposal with an estimated $40 million-saving alternative, the project was indefinitely postponed by the state judiciary amid continued funding seizures by the legislature and governor's office.
Rather than await the replenishment of judicial courthouse construction funds, Nevada City's Courthouse Committee proposed funding a feasibility and cost engineering study, arguing it would make the project more attractive for state funding with many of its initial steps already completed.
Its members also tapped Michael Ross and Associates to conduct the study because the firm has performed work on numerous construction projects, and the AOC has said it would accept the agency's work as if it were its own.
"We're a good chunk of the way in because of Nevada City's contribution," Bergman said. "But we need some more support."
In requesting funds toward the study, city leaders have contended that any upgrade would benefit all of Nevada County, including the county government, which owns 49 percent of the building; the remainder is owned by the state.
Matson said the county would no longer have to fund maintenance, such as the roof repairs, if the facility was completely state-owned.
"We probably need to have that study done by sometime in March before the governor's final budget comes out," said Nevada City Manager David Brennan, noting that about $46,000 would get the study started.
"If there is funding, we think that is when it will get allocated," Brennan said. "We need to show by then that we are in a position to build."
The courthouse committee is scheduled to appear before the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce at its Sept. 27 meeting and is planning to approach the Nevada City, Truckee, Penn Valley and Rough and Ready chambers of commerce as well.
Study advocates are also planning to crowd-fund the study, Bergman said, noting a Kickstarter campaign could bolster community support.
"It conveys a message that every little donation helps. It's about everybody," Bergman said. "The nickels and dimes can do it."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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