Plans for a new courthouse in Alpine County aren’t the only blueprints getting another look by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
A one-courtroom, $23 million building planned for Sierra County’s tiny Downieville is under review, too, according to an update on the AOC’s construction Web site.
Once the project’s architect is signed up, “efforts will be made to develop a smaller building plan that is more efficient and less expensive,” the project description says.
The new courthouse’s planned size, 15,000 square feet, and hard construction costs -- $721 per square foot, according to the AOC -- have raised eyebrows among some of Downieville’s 200 or so locals. One county supervisor and the court’s presiding judge, John Kennelly, suggested in recent weeks that the project would likely be downsized. Looks like they were right.
But that raises a few questions. These grand designs and costs have been on the books for several years in some cases. They’ve been blessed by various state agencies, including the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Why are they only getting a hard look now?
Secondly, where else might the AOC’s “re-scoping” ax be falling? Some small, rural courthouses would seem a natural target: Plumas County (three courtrooms, $52 million); the Tahoe area in Placer County (one courtroom, $27 million) and Nevada City (six courtrooms, $108 million).
And finally, why is no one talking about adding more projects to the branch’s bond-funding list? True, some of the projects’ costs have risen since 2008 –- a head-scratcher given the recession. But many have dropped, including the whopping $1.2 billion estimate for downtown San Diego’s new courthouse (now pegged at $633 million). That would appear to free up a fair bit of money, and as branch leaders have continually pointed out, there are plenty of deteriorating courthouses in California.