Thursday, July 25, 2024

Mendocino County’s New County Courthouse On Track While Costs Climb

The current state of the Mendocino County Courthouse [Picture from the Mendocino County Superior Court Facebook page]

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.

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 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. 

The current public-facing facade of the Mendocino County Courthouse was designed by architect C.A. Caulkins and completed in 1951 [Photograph from Flickr user J. Stephen Conn]

“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 County 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,” said Kim Turner, court executive officer for the Mendocino County Superior Court.

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.

Plans for the Courthouse obtained by Mike Geniella

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 three-story 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.

Plans for the Courthouse obtained by Mike Geniella

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. 

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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 is eventually demolished, 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.

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  1. Ridiculous!!! So much could be done for our community with $144 MILLION!!! Our current courthouse could use some updates of course but we DO NOT need a BRAND NEW one. I am BORN and RAISED here in Ukiah and I have seen many changes in my lifetime to this town and county but a brand new building for the courthouse should not be what that money is used for. How about affordable housing for the working class of this town, school funding, after school programs and or places for our youth to go and be safe and entertained!!! This town desperately needs mental health services and something done about ALL THE TRANSIENTS! Why are these issues be overlooked!?!? SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS IN THIS TOWN!!

    • I think this town should be grateful the state is finally coming around to funding this long overdue project. The state grants seem to be the only new infrastructure happening here. Be grateful. Ukiah needs more outside investors, and tax paying businesses, to generate more pay-rolled employees who can afford housing here.

    • Stacy, I love your ideas. People need to have reasons to live. Reasons to be happy. Things to work towards. But that doesn’t seem to be on any government agenda. Our government is supposed to work for US. So Stacey, my advice to you is to get involved. Start by going to “local”government meetings. Write letters to your President as well as district supervisors and tell them what you’re like to see happen.

  2. Stacey- $144 million is a lot of money yes but it’s not the job of government to build “affordable housing”. The job of developers and the free market economy would do that if its profitable and it’s not so it doesn’t get done which is fine by me. I hope they build more jails and throw all the drug addicts and bums and gang members in there and let them dry out and sort it out themselves. Jails too crowded? Too bad! Pack ’em in and let that be incentive to people to not do crime. As you can see from almost every headline- this place is full of criminals, convicts and drug addicts that aren’t fit to operate amongst good citizens in society so build more jails and pile them in!

  3. It appears that not placing close to the upgraded jail is folly. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent merely moving inmates from the current jail to the current courthouse. Siting of the new courthouse, and collaborating with the Jail/Sheriff, could minimize these costs. Also, having all of the county bureaucracy in one place would be more efficient for those needing to enlist our civil servants for permitting, etc.

    • Most towns with new “justice centers” place jails and courthouses and even admin offices nearby to one another. Ukiah and th3 county spent some time getting input on where to locate the new courthouse. I don’t recall if renovation of the existing building was an option, but the cost of prisoner transport was discussed. We are moving ahead with the current plan and started infrastructure. I wonder about the traffic impact on Perkins as well as the effect on downtown. To reduce poverty and transience Ukiah must rely less on grants and NGOs in the future and encourage more private business development.

      • I agree. Next time a big box store is trying to come into Ukiah; let’s not make it take twelve years to happen. It seems like this area has a protective mentality around its “local” businesses that seems to be counter productive at times.

  4. It’s money from the state, don’t panic. Yes please build something new in ukiah. Paint all the way up and down state street. Add some potted plants, and sidewalks. Streetlights? Maintain the park bathrooms, south main street sucks so bad. We are all.so busy maintaining our online lives that we’ve collectively forgotten how to maintain our physical surroundings


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