Nevada City officials hopeful of county courthouse project in the face of state financial shortfalls
Some Nevada City officials remain confident that the Nevada County Courthouse project, which has been placed in the “indefinitely delayed” category since 2013, will move forward in the future despite recent funding shortfalls announced by the California Judicial Council that will impede construction for more than two dozen ongoing courthouse projects.
“The fact that there is no money now is the reality of the situation,” said Paul Matson, who heads the Nevada City Courthouse Committee. “The fact that they’ve agreed the best way to go would be to stay where the activities have always occurred, I think it’s good news for Nevada City. So I’m in for the long haul and waiting for the moment when the funds are available.”
In 2009, officials from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts determined that the 151-year-old Nevada County Superior Court building in downtown Nevada City is “unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient.” State officials considered building a new facility along Highway 49, a project that would have cost $108 million. The plan met intense criticism from many residents and officials of Nevada City, who argued it’s essential the courthouse remain in its current location at 201 Church St., as the facility is a central part of the historical character of Nevada City and contributes to its economic vitality.
Fiscal woes and a decision by state officials to redistribute construction funds to offset revenue shortfalls in the state budget resulted in the Nevada County courthouse project being placed in the “indefinitely delayed” list in January 2013.
In an effort to persuade state officials of the worthiness of their project, Nevada City officials allocated $32,000 to contract the Sonoma-based Ross Drulis Cusenberry Architecture to conduct the first phase of a feasibility study in 2014. The study concluded that retrofitting the building at its Church Street location would save the state $40 million.
In April 2015, the state Judicial Council agreed to allocate $62,000 to fund phase two of the feasibility study.
However, a story published earlier this month by The Sacramento Bee reported budgetary shortfalls has caused judicial officials to delay more than two dozen courthouse construction projects in 26 counties.
“We are out of money and there is nothing we can do at this point, short of getting that money back,” state appellate Justice Brad Hill, chairman of the Judicial Council of California court facilities advisory committee, told the Bee. “The days of being able to limp along are over.”
In an email to The Union, Blaine Corren, a public affairs analyst with the Judicial Council, said the Nevada County courthouse project has not been directly affected. But there is no priority list for projects in the “indefinitely delayed” category, Corren said.
“In the future, once adequate funding is identified for the current ongoing construction projects, then it’s possible that the Judicial Council and its Court Facilities Advisory Committee will revisit the construction projects placed in the ‘indefinitely delayed’ category,” Corren wrote. “But as of now, this has not happened.”
Nevada City officials, however, said they are not disheartened by the Judicial Council announcement.
“I’m very optimistic. We come from a complete ‘no’ to remaining in place, to ‘yes, it would be beneficial’ and financially beneficial, and actually practical to remodel the existing facility; that is coming from the Judicial Council’s study,” Matson said. “So I’m very optimistic.”
Nevada City Manager Mark Prestwich concurred. He said the city is aware the state has funding challenges, but it is hopeful there will be additional resources in the future to address the county courthouse needs around the state.
“The study reinforces what we believed was true, and that is the state will save more than $40 million by rebuilding on site,” Prestwich said. “So I believe, when I look at that project, it’s really a matter of when, not if. The question is when, and the when depends on the funding.”
According to Prestwich, the city in 2015 requested the state to remove the county from the indefinitely delayed list, and invest approximately $5 million in the initial design work.
“That funding request was not granted. But it’s something the state could invest in down the road. This is the starting point for the courthouse,” Prestwich said. “We know we have a great project. It’s just that the project needs funding at this point.”
Nevada County Superior Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka said he’s not as optimistic.
“I think it means that even though we have the study, and we might be the first in line when money becomes available, that money is not going to become available for several years,” Metroka said. “So it just means, we are going to sit and wait.”
Citing public safety issues caused by the outdated structure, Metroka said maintenance is much needed for the courthouse.
“I would like to see the project proceed. I think we greatly need a modern court facility in this community,” Metroka said. “But I’m not optimistic that it’s going to happen any time in the course of next several years — just trying to be real.”
Matson said he has a lot of patience with this project, because it is the most important issue facing Nevada City.
“At some point in time, there will be funding,” Matson said, “and we will be ready.”
To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 530-477-4236.
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