Los Banos courthouse plan could get boost from state

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comApril 30, 2013 

There's good news in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal for the Los Banos courthouse project.

Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the California Administrative Office of the Courts, said Brown's proposal provides money for courthouse designs.

"The project is scheduled for working drawings for 2013-14," she said recently. "Then the bond sale could happen maybe in the spring of 2015 and then construction."

But Ruano said nothing has been finalized because the governor's proposal has to be approved by the state Legislature and a bond sale must be approved.

"Usually, construction follows a bond sale, but the state Legislature could hold off on bond sales. It depends on what happens during the fiscal year," Ruano said.

In December, many courthouse projects were cut by state lawmakers, shifting about $600 million in Long Beach court expenses to the state's courthouse construction budget. The projects that remained included new courthouses in Los Banos, Sonora and Modesto.

In Los Banos, the Robert M. Falasco Justice Center occupies about 5,370 square feet of its 15,000- square-foot building. The one-courtroom structure is owned by Merced County and is shared by the Sheriff's Department, probation department, the county clerk and the public defender. The district attorney's office is in a portable building at the rear of the permanent structure. A feasibility report identified numerous deficiencies at the facility, which was built in 1980.

In 2009, the state authorized $32.6 million (then reduced to $32.2 million) to be spent on construction of a new court facility with two courtrooms and room to expand to four.

Councilman Tom Faria said he's pleased with the progress on the courthouse project and is hopeful it can be built in 2015. He said activity on the West Side has outpaced the capacity of the Robert M. Falasco Justice Center.

"Our present courthouse isn't large enough for (the volume of cases) we have. I don't think we can even hold jury trials," Faria said.

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