The Ukiah Daily Journal
NEW MENDOCINO COUNTY COURTHOUSE ON TRACK
Plans approved Friday by state Department of Finance
Plans for a new Mendocino County Courthouse cleared a critical hurdle last Friday after winning approval from the state Department of Finance.
There are, however, months more of regulatory review before any construction work can begin at a new site on the south side of Perkins Street.
State cost estimates, meanwhile, are spiraling.
As proposed, the seven-courtroom, 82,000-square-foot building is now expected to cost $144 million, up from last year's estimate of $118 million.
Global supply issues relating to steel beams and other necessary building materials are cited.
“The new estimate is related to supply side issues. There's been no major changes to the project itself,” said Kim Turner, court executive officer for the Mendocino County Superior Court.
Turner said still to come are necessary approvals from the state Public Works Committee, and a critical sign off by the state Fire Marshal which must weigh in on all state construction projects.
“We will need to get in line and obtain the Fire Marshal approval of the plans before any construction can get under way,” said Turner, the local court's coordinator with the state on the project.
Turner said the state Judicial Council is narrowing down who will do the final design and construction of the decade-old courthouse project, which was delayed in 2016 because of state funding issues.
“I don't doubt that it is finally going to happen but there just isn't a clear timeline yet,” Turner said.
Turner speculated preliminary construction work could begin this winter. It will take up to two years for the new courthouse to be completed, said Turner.
At present the Ukiah courthouse project is labeled by the state as an “immediate need,” and it is ranked as one of the highest priority capital outlay projects for the state judicial branch, according to the state Judicial Council.
As envisioned, the new threestory courthouse will be built on a 4-acre site immediately south of the historic Ukiah Train Depot. It will be bordered on the west by abandoned railroad tracks. The project will include landscaping, secured parking for court officers and staff, and about 160 parking spaces for jurors and the public.
Now that the courthouse project is on track again, city and county officials plan to renew discussions about the fate of the current courthouse building.
The 1950s building dominates the heart of downtown on a square-block site where the first county courthouse was constructed in the 19th century. The state estimates the building needs at least $10 million in repairs and upgrades.
If it will continue in use and by whom is unclear. Currently,
the county District Attorney's Office occupies most of the ground floor but there is no room provided in the new courthouse.
Besides space issues, there is concern about how relocation of the courthouse will economically affect downtown, where shops, restaurants and offices rely on the foot traffic generated by current courthouse operations. The new courthouse will be located a long three blocks east of downtown.
City and county officials have informally discussed possibilities over the years but now that the new courthouse project appears to be moving ahead, the Ukiah City Council recently formed an ad hoc committee to work with the county on future uses of the current site.
Some downtown advocates are pushing for the current courthouse to be demolished eventually, with the exception of a century-old limestone clad addition that faces School Street. In its place the hope is for a downtown square along the lines of Healdsburg or the town of Sonoma.
Shannon Riley, Ukiah's assistant city manager, said she will be the staff member for the city council's ad hoc committee.
“Now that it appears things are moving again, we are prepared to engage,” said Riley.