Tuolumne County officials aim to begin construction on a new Sheriff’s Office administration building at the Law and Justice Center in Sonora by 2020, one of other related projects that are part of a newly approved three-year plan.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to approve the plan that was presented by County Administrator Craig Pedro at a public meeting on Tuesday. District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce was absent.

Other goals include starting construction on other privately and publicly financed buildings at the Law and Justice Center as well as implementing plans to repurpose the vacated Tuolumne General Hospital building and historic courthouse in downtown Sonora.

The new Sheriff’s Office administration building would replace the current one at 28 N. Lower Sunset Dr., next to the Tuolumne County Jail that will also soon be replaced with a $40 million facility.

Construction on the jail is slated to begin this month, with an anticipated completion date in late 2019.

Whether the county meets the goal for the new administration building will depend largely on funding. The county is in the process of issuing about $18 million in lease-revenue bonds to finance the jail and other work related to the Law and Justice Center.

“If we’re looking a longer timeframe, we need to have an interim solution for the Sheriff’s people,” said District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer. “They’re in the worst facilities this county has.”

The jail is one of three main buildings planned for the Law and Justice Center campus, in addition to the $20 million Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility that opened last April and a $65 million new courthouse.

All told, the county is anticipated to spend about $25 million of the total $138 million price tag for the three main buildings.

There isn’t an estimated cost yet for the proposed new Sheriff’s Office headquarters.

Planning for the development of the Law and Justice Center began in the early 2000s.

In 2009, the county paid more than $4 million for 48 acres off Old Wards Ferry Road that was owned by the Gardella family as a site for the future campus.

The amount paid for the land was roughly the same amount as the projected budget deficit that the county is currently looking for ways to balance prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1.

Two other projects at the Law and Justice Center included in the three-year plan are a privately financed “community support” building and new homes for the probation department, district attorney and public defender offices.

Pedro said the completion of those projects will depend on whether the state approves funding for the new courthouse in the next fiscal year’s budget and completes construction in 2020 as currently planned.

The community support building would provide services needed at the Law and Justice Center once the courthouse is completed, such as offices for private attorneys and food establishments.

That building would be constructed on about 2.5 acres at the center that was originally reserved for new Sonora-area California Highway Patrol headquarters. However, the state agency will no longer be joining them at the campus “for a variety of reasons,” Pedro said.

The tentative plan is to seek proposals from developers who the county would construct the buildings on the land under a lease agreement with the county.

“That would become income property for the county and provide the services needed out there,” Pedro said.

A timeline for finalizing a plan on what to do with the historic courthouse building on Yaney Avenue will also depend on when the state can complete the new facility.

The three-year plan calls for nailing that down in 2019 under the assumption the new courthouse moves forward on schedule.

Donald Segerstrom, presiding judge of Tuolumne County Superior Court, has suggested the court could continue to use the top-floor courtroom for family law and small claims civil cases, as well as ceremonies.

Pedro also talked about the county needing to soon decide what to do with the Tuolumne General Hospital building at 101 Hospital Road in Sonora that has sat mostly vacant for the past 10-plus years.

One option is to renovate the building, though Pedro noted that would be a costly endeavor. He said the county could also look at replacing the four-story building with another one that would have have fewer floors.

“We need to come up with a plan of how we’re going to do that,” he said, adding that a number of nonprofit organizations have expressed interest in occupying the building.

The three-plan calls for the county to finalize a plan in 2019 and begin construction the following year.

In addition to the projects related to the Law and Justice Center, the plan also calls for over the next three years:

• completing and adopting an updated General Plan by the end of this year;

• completing construction on one or two grant-funded community resilience centers by 2020;

• implementing all technology upgrades by 2020;

• developing and implementing a road-maintenance plan using money from the state’s recent gas-tax increase;

• creating and implementing an employee development program;

• establishing a potential regulatory ordinance for commercial cannabis activity by the end of 2019.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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