|A preliminary rendering of the new Lakeport Courthouse project, to be located on Lakeport Boulevard in Lakeport, Calif. Courtesy of Forell/Elsesser Engineers Inc.|
LAKEPORT, Calif. – After a stop-and-go process that has taken place over the last several years, it looks like the new Lakeport Courthouse project could move forward in the next fiscal year.
The $55.2 million project's working drawings phase is included in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2014-15 fiscal year budget, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The new 50,000-square-foot courthouse will be located at 675 Lakeport Blvd. The plans call for a two-story building, with four courtrooms on the main, top floor and clerical on the bottom floor, which will be built into the hillside.
It will more than triple the Lake County Superior Court's current footprint in Lakeport, where it occupies about 15,000 square feet on the fourth floor of the current courthouse, located on N. Forbes Street.
The court's current cramped quarters in the 1960s-era courthouse landed it on a list of eight priority projects in 2009, as Lake County News has reported.
“The current Lakeport courthouse has many inadequacies such as overcrowding, poor security and deficient courtrooms. Experts, who have carefully studied the facility, noted these inadequacies,” Lake County Superior Court Presiding Judge Stephen Hedstrom told Lake County News.
“The new courthouse will remedy those deficiencies and help provide access to justice to all Lake County citizens,” Hedstrom said. “It will be cost-effective, well-designed and long-lasting. Lake County will be proud of this new facility. We are very excited this project is moving forward.”
If everything goes smoothly and the governor's budget for the courthouse is approved, the new Lakeport Courthouse's groundbreaking could take place in the first quarter of 2016, with the dedication in the third quarter of 2017, according to Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman Keby Boyer.
The state funds its courthouse construction projects through SB 1407, legislation which was passed to collect as much as $5 billion in court user fees, penalties and assessments to build or renovate courthouses in 32 counties.
But as the state dealt with the fallout of the recession, the Legislature borrowed from the courts, with the Judicial Council reporting that $1.7 billion in SB 1407 funds have been redirected since 2009.
“The last five years we’ve taken a big hit to the judicial branch, and that includes construction,” Boyer said.
The State Public Works Board approved the new courthouse's preliminary plans in June 2012, said Boyer.
However, because of the state's financial challenges, after the State Public Works Board approval, the Lakeport Courthouse – along with 14 other courthouse projects across the state – was put on hold until fiscal year 2014-15, Boyer said.
In this latest preliminary budget proposal, Gov. Brown “has given us more money to work with,” said Boyer.
In another effort to save money, the courthouse projects have been put through a cost cutting committee, according to Mary Smith, the acting executive officer for the Lake County Superior Court.
Smith said the project has had an overall 23-percent cost reduction. Hedstrom and Judge Andrew Blum, accompanied by Smith, attended a Jan. 10 cost cutting committee meeting in San Francisco, during which the project was approved.
However, Smith cautioned, “We're so early in the budget right now, we don’t know where it’s going to end up.”
There are two parts to the Administrative Office of the Courts' architectural design process, said Boyer.
The first is the preliminary design, which is where Lakeport's courthouse project is now. Boyer said that step pulls together all of the details and considers how it will fit on the proposed site.
With Lakeport already having the State Public Works Board's approval, if the funding comes through for the 15 courthouse projects in the governor's budget, Lakeport's will move into the second phase, working drawings, which Boyer said takes the preliminary plans and prepares them for construction.
Boyer estimated working drawings would take about a year and a half to complete.
The process includes a lot of checks and balances, Boyer said. “We are spending the taxpayers' money and we are conscious of that.”
The new Lakeport Courthouse design calls for one of the stories below ground, Boyer said. The courts are very conscious of a height restriction, an issue that came up due to concerns that the Vista Point overlook at the Lake County Chamber offices, located just up the hill, would be blocked by the new building.
“It follows the natural curvature of the hillside,” and maximizes the property, said Smith. “The court's real happy with the design that was approved.”
She added, “I think it's going to be a beautiful project when it's done,” noting that the court is very happy with the architect, Mark Cavagnero Associates.
Smith said if everything goes “perfectly,” the bond sale for the project could take place in 2015.
Email Elizabeth Larson at email@example.com . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.