New courthouse could be built in Nevada City, top official says
“This won’t be completely driven by people in the state who might not understand the issues here." Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka
By Pat Butler
Nevada City Advocate
A new Nevada County courthouse could be built on the same location as the present one, the court’s top executive told the Nevada City Advocate on Friday.
“It can be built in Nevada City,” Sean Metroka said when asked of the state’s plans to replace the courthouse with an 83,000-square-foot facility and parking for 210 vehicles.
The Administrative Office of the Courts announced this week that the Nevada County courthouse would be replaced by the summer of 2015 with a $108-million building.
The news sent shock waves through Nevada City. Many felt the current site is not large enough to accommodate the project, meaning the city could be left with a large vacancy and a significant loss of week day business.
“This will be a terrible blow to our local economy,” Mayor Reinette Senum said when she heard the news.
Metroka, who is the court executive officer, said Friday that government code says “judges shall have chambers in the county seat,” which means at least some portion of the courts must remain in Nevada City.
“There’s no fuzz on that,” he said.
Metroka also said it should not be presumed that a new courthouse will be built near the Rood Center, which is where the sheriff’s office and the county jail are located as well as county government headquarters.
“There are some good options besides the obvious one of moving it to Highway 49,” he said.
One of those options is the current site of the Nevada County courthouse, which sits on a one-acre lot at 201 Church Street and provides around 60,000 square feet in its main building, two annexes and a jail.
Metroka said a new three-story building could offer as much as 120,000-square-feet of space and that a nearby parking lot could be converted into a two-story parking compound with 100 spaces. The state will also allow the site-selection committee to count off-street parking as it works toward providing a total of 210 spaces.
The new building will also have its own fire-suppression system, he added.
The state’s Judicial Council is overseeing the project, which is one of 41 statewide in 34 counties that are scheduled to be completed by 2015.
Metroka said establishing a project advisory group is the next step in the site-selection process that could take as long as two years. Judges and representatives from the courts, the city and the public will be on the panel, he said.
“This won’t be completely driven by people in the state who might not understand the issues here,” Metroka said.
Teresa Ruano, a spokesperson with the Administrative Office of the Courts, said it was legislation approved in 2002 that gave the state the authority to operate all courthouses.
SB 1407, which was approved in 2008 by the Legislature, provides up to $5 billion to either renovate or build courthouses that are deemed to be in critical need of upgrades. The Judicial Council, which oversees the building program, identified the projects.
Court fees are earmarked to finance the projects.
Ruano said the state now collects around $273 million a year in court fees. Eventually, the state will purchase lease-revenue bonds to finance the construction of the courthouses, she said.
SB 1407 authorizes the courts to collect court fees for up to 35 years to pay for the projects and financing. Ruano said the goal is to build all the courthouses as soon as possible.
“We’re undertaking all of them as fast as we can,” she said.