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State moves on city court project

January 20, 2014

The Administrative Offices of the Courts has a proposal on the table to build a new court facility on this lot behind the current Bishop courthouse. Local leaders said they would like to know more specifics about the project before commenting. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

City Council, the City of Bishop and Administrative Office of the Courts staff are making some headway on plans for a new Inyo County Court Building to be located near City Hall.
With a potential site selected and several preliminary studies begun, construction of the proposed building could begin during the first quarter of 2017, said AOC Office of Court Construction and Management staff at their first-ever presentation to City Council on Jan. 13.
Design and Construction Services Project Manager Gary Swanson and Real Estate and Asset Management Services Senior Real Estate Analyst Joanne Williamson, both of the Judicial Council office in Burbank, gave an update of their progress on the proposed county courthouse project. At present, the proposed one-acre site for the proposed two-story, two-courtroom courthouse is the parking lot north of City Hall at North Fowler and Church streets.
A Project Advisory Committee that included community members, scouted possible sites, Williamson said, taking into account issues such as public accessibility, nearby transportation and the residential and commercial communities’ wishes.
The proposed information was met by city officials with questions and some concerns about a lack of concrete information.
City Administrator Keith Caldwell said, “Essentially, I really don’t have a comment right now” because everything is so preliminary: The initial appraisal was done on a different lot than the current site and “obviously, appraisal and price offered by the state for city-owned land will be very important.”
Williamson later said she is hopeful that the appraisal of the current site will be completed within the next month.
The whole project must be presented to the community and project planners need to hear and respond to public and agency comments. In short, “we’ve seen very little documentation,” Caldwell said. “We need to know that the environmental phase is actually ongoing.”
The environmental phase typically takes 6-8 months to complete and includes public hearings, a parking plan, preliminary design documents, an appraisal, a proposed price, environmental impact study and so on, he explained.
The AOC’s report was based on its number one property choice, Caldwell said. “Council has several questions. We’re waiting for the state’s response. (Although) one of the things the Council is considering is the economic opportunities a courthouse would present for the city, with increased shopping and use of other businesses by people visiting on courthouse businesses,” the council does not want to make any hasty decisions. “The city wants the court to be the driver in this whole process.”
During the Monday meeting, Mayor Jim Ellis asked about the impact on existing and future parking and Councilman David Stottlemyre asked if the city would have any say in the process. Swanson said, “During the design element phase, we would propose city and public input.” At these town meetings, information in the form of reports, documents and renderings would be available, AOC Communication Specialist Keby Boyer added.
Williamson indicated that time was of the essence. Since November, the AOC has been in the Site Acquisition Approval Phase, in which the land is actually purchased. Realtor Nancy Lothorp of Coldwell Banker said she has been hired to represent the AOC when it makes a decision to go forward with a purchase.
Williamson told the council that escrow must closed by December. “(The AOC needs) to move fast due to budget issues,” he said. Boyer later explained that if Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget takes effect July 1, it is “imperative that we acquire the land (by then) so we don’t lose funding … Projects that are ready will be funded first.”
Swanson said, “Close of escrow shouldn’t hold up the Preliminary Design Phase which could start in July.” Swanson and Williamson’s report provided a rough outline of upcoming project stages. In July, the Architectural Design Phase and public meetings would determine how the building will fit on the site.
According to Williamson’s best estimate, findings of this phase would be submitted for approval in December. The Environmental Impact Study Phase could start any time after July 1, Boyer said, as could the Preliminary Design Plan Phase, when meetings will be held to determine how the building will fit on the site.
Next, in the architectural design element phase, Swanson said, “We would propose city and public input” in the form of town meetings, and present drawings and perhaps a mock up.  Part of this phase includes producing schematic design documents involving electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems and other aspects that make buildings habitable, Boyer said.
“We’re here to work with you. It’s your courthouse,” Swanson told the council.
It is estimated that construction documents could be ready by third quarter 2016; a construction manager at risk, who would initiate the construction bidding process, would be hired, Swanson said.
The bidding process could begin during the last quarter of 2016 and construction might commence during the first quarter of 2017, Swanson said.
Building a courthouse is a long process. The original Sept. 3, 2009 Project Feasibility Report courthouse concept, still posted at, was approved in September 2010, Boyer said. The Courthouse Cost Reduction subcommittee, which overlooks the budgets, “always looking for ways to save the tax payer money” met in May 2013.
Boyer explained that the Judicial Council of California is the entity that makes final decisions on AOC projects. “It’s a long and involved process because of the checks and balances along the way to make sure that we’re spending the public’s money as wisely and efficiently as possibly. There’s lots of oversight to make sure that happens,” Boyer said. “When it’s finally finished, it will be the best possible building that we construct for the people of California so that people have access to justice.”
When Caldwell introduced Inyo County Administrative Office of the Courts Tammy Grimm and Superior Court judges Dean Stout and Brian Lamb from the audience, Lamb took the podium, saying “We’re enthusiastic (about a new courthouse which will) reflect the dignity and gravity of the court, doing justice to job we’re doing … A building to last for the generations to come who can look at our courthouse and see it was built with wisdom and foresight.”

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