A rock and a hard place: Business, school advocates worry about new court site | TheUnion.com

A rock and a hard place: Business, school advocates worry about new court site

Nevada City Council described its predicament Wednesday night as being stuck between a rock and a hard place:

Teachers, parents and neighbors of the now-vacant Nevada City Elementary pleaded for council support in keeping the site a school. Business owners pointed out the city’s priority of keeping a soon-to-be-built courthouse near the business core.

While they didn’t make a motion by press time, all five council members said a multi-level courthouse would be a bad fit for the residential neighborhood where the Art Deco-style school sits.

“I cannot picture a big courthouse in that neighborhood,” said councilman David McKay. “I don’t think we have to sell our souls to keep the courthouse downtown.”

The discussion was prompted by Nevada City resident John Givens’ request that the City Council write a letter to the Nevada City School District board, encouraging them not to use the property as anything other than a school.

Discussion expanded beyond the letter itself. City leaders are trying to discern how to influence a massive project outside their authority: The state Administrative Office of the Courts has proposed a $108 million building to replace the aging downtown courthouse, which the department says is too small and has inadequate security.

“Not building a new courthouse is not an option,” said Paul Matson, a member of Nevada City’s Save Our Downtown Courthouse committee.

But state officials are not considering renovating and rebuilding on the current site because it is too small. They also said it would be nearly impossible to move court operations elsewhere – and comply with stringent security laws – during a major renovation.

“We’ll continue to lobby for the (current) 201 Church Street location against all odds,” Matson said.

State court officials approached Nevada City School District board this summer, expressing interest in the NCE site. The parcel is 200 by 350 feet, ample space for a courthouse; the minimum lot size for the proposed 84,000-square-foot building is 140 by 150 feet, according to City Engineer Bill Falconi.

The state office has made no official offer on the site, said Superintendent Roxanne Gilpatric.

A site selection committee comprising local and state officials is currently considering several locations, including property in the Seven Hills Business District and along Highway 49.

Neighbors of the school, which closed its doors in June due to declining enrollment and budget cuts, described the sentimental value of the historic school. They also talked of the complications a busy courthouse would bring to their quiet neighborhood.

Business owners said relocating the courthouse away from downtown would shrivel already-ailing businesses.

Councilwoman Reinette Senum lamented the conundrum: “We either have to destroy our downtown economy or our school.”

Mayor Robert Bergman said citizens and city leaders needed to present a compelling case for an alternative site. One such proposal was building the courthouse bridge-style over Highway 49.

“You can’t tell me that’s impossible,” Senum said.

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

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