Timeline of major milestones in the development of Tuolumne County’s Law and Justice Center in Sonora

2008 — Basic master plan developed for an environmental impact report.

2009 — Environmental impact report approved and about 48 acres off Old Wards Ferry Road purchased from the Gardella family for $4.2 million, in addition to land and easements exchanged with the Martin family for several acres to build a new access road at the site.

2011 — Off-site infrastructure improvements completed for center.

2017 — Construction completed on the $20 million Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility and a $2 million transit hub.

2018 — Construction begins on $50 million county jail, with an estimated completion date in December 2019.

2019 — State begins construction on a $65 million courthouse for Tuolumne County Superior County, with an estimated completion date in December 2020.

About $140 million in state and local public funds over the past 10 years have been dedicated to developing Tuolumne County’s Law and Justice Center in Sonora, and the county is taking steps to begin planning for possibly more construction at the site.

The county released a document earlier this month seeking an architectural firm to provide recommendations for additional buildings for the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Probation Department, Grand Jury, offices for private attorneys, a food court, and conference rooms.

Responses to the request for qualifications are due by May 10.

Construction is underway at the site on a $50 million county jail, which is funded mostly with $33 million in state grants, and a $65 million courthouse for Tuolumne County Superior Court, which is funded and being built entirely by the state.

A nearly $20 million juvenile hall, called the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, was built and opened in 2017. The state paid $16 million of the price for construction, while the county’s share was close to $3 million.

According to the RFQ, the county is looking for recommendations on the best use of three remaining undeveloped parcels at the site and how much it would likely cost to construct the potential facilities.

The document also seeks recommendations for the completion of Gardella Ranch Road, which would extend from the site to Sanguinetti Loop, though it lists a number of challenges that include railroad and drainage crossings, other road connections, preserving cultural resources, the need for retaining walls and “a great deal of cut and fill work.”

County staff was directed by the Board of Supervisors to move forward with seeking an architectural firm on March 22 during a special meeting held at Black Oak Casino Resort.

Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank, who has overseen the center’s development, said at the meeting that the work is expected to take about four months to complete and cost about $150,000, which would be funded with interest accrued from the county’s lease-revenue bonds that financed much of the county’s share for the construction of the new jail and portion of the juvenile hall.

Frank was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

One of the proposed tasks in the RFQ is to assess the existing and future needs of each county department that would be included in the plan, then translate those needs into recommendations on the size and features of the potential facilities at the site.

The RFQ stated the District Attorney’s Office has the equivalent of about 23 full-time employees who work in one 9,281-square-foot building the county owns at 423 N. Washington St., across from Sonora High School.

There are the equivalent of about six-and-a-half full-time employees who work in the Public Defender’s Office, which is housed in one 2,484-square-foot building at 99 N. Washington St. in Sonora that the county rents from Milton Dambacher for about $2,100 per month.

The Sheriff’s Office divisions that would move to the center have the equivalent of about 83 full-time employees who are spread across four buildings in Sonora, which total about 33,000 square feet combined.

Three of the buildings that house the Sheriff’s Office are leased by the county for a total of nearly $68,000 per year, though they will soon be moved into a single building on Cedar Road that will cost about $123,600 per year to rent and $110,250 to remodel.

In addition, the Sheriff’s Office would need space at the Law and Justice Center for storing equipment, vehicles, an area to wash their vehicles, and communications tower, among other things, according to the RFQ.

The grand jury consists of up to 20 volunteer citizens who are selected each year that meet weekly in a portion of one building that’s roughly 1,000 square feet, the RFQ stated.

The Probation Department has the equivalent of 31 full-time employees housed in a roughly 7,100-square-foot building that’s owned by the county at 465 S. Washington St. in Sonora.

A day reporting center operated by a private contractor for the Probation Department would also move to a new facility at the Law and Justice Center, according to the RFQ.

The day reporting center has the equivalent of about five full-time employees and serves about 10 to 15 clients at a time in a roughly 2,500-square-foot space, located on the third floor of the county-owned former Tuolumne General Hospital at 101 Hospital Road in Sonora.

There would be between 12 and 14 offices for private attorneys with an average of two to three attorneys and support staff at each, according to the RFQ, which stated it’s “unknown at this time how many attorneys would want to move over to the Law and Justice Center Campus.”

Regarding the potential food court and conference area, the RFQ stated the county doesn’t have any food-related services at the Law and Justice Center other than break rooms. The county would be looking to construct “turnkey type food facilities” in at least one of the buildings at the center.

Some county supervisors at the March 22 meeting expressed a desire to partner with the private sector in whatever way possible to develop the potential new facilities at the center, if they decide to move forward.

The board is anticipated to consider approving a contract with an architectural firm recommended by county staff on June 18, with the work expected to take about four months to complete.

County officials have estimated it would take at least four years to complete any of the potential facilities.

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








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