Headwinds for court project

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat February 22, 2013 07:24 am

A proposal to build a new courthouse in Sonora is once again facing possible delays as the state judicial budget continues to tighten.

According to an announcement released this week by the California Judicial Council, a special working group will consider on Wednesday and Thursday a proposal to delay the project along with 10 others around the state.

The move would take place if court construction funding is not increased in the state’s 2013-14 budget, as $1.5 billion initially intended for projects has already been borrowed, transferred or redirected, according to the Judicial Council.

 Under the proposal, the preliminary planning phase for the Sonora project would not take place until at least 2014-15. The state-funded project, which calls for building the court as a centerpiece of the long-discussed Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry Road, has already seen its share of delays and cuts as budgets have tightened.

In December, it survived a round of budget cuts as the working group recommended four projects be indefinitely delayed to make up for $550 million the state needed to find to make room for a major court project in Long Beach. The local court was one of more than 20 considered by the working group for delays.

The Sonora court project is still in its planning stages, and the county sold the land for the courthouse to the state in June for $800,000. Though the courthouse is a state project, it will be built on the site of a multi-agency law and justice campus that is proposed to include a new jail, juvenile detention center, law enforcement stations and court offices.

The county finished approximately $2.86 million in infrastructure work for the entire campus, including utilities and road improvements, earlier this year.

The courthouse proposal called for a two-story, five-courtroom building to open by 2014 and replace the two court buildings in downtown Sonora.

At the same time, a water break at the current courthouse is causing some departments to temporarily move as crews work on flood damage.

According to Shelley Walker, the court’s acting executive officer, crews discovered flooding in the historic building’s third floor. The water collected above the ceiling and then flooded into the Department 5 Courtroom on the second floor, as well as the self-help law library on the first floor.

Workers this week cleared out equipment and furniture and dehumidified the rooms, Walker stated in an email. Department 5 activities will take place in other courtrooms at least through March 1, and the library has been temporarily moved across the hall.

“The court is currently evaluating the ability to expand the services until the original location can be re-opened,” Walker stated in the email.