Superior Court Judge Brian Lamb said the money is in hand and preliminary work for site selection for the new Bishop court facility is in progress.
During a meeting with the Inyo County Board of Supervisors last Monday, Lamb also said the state is nearly ready to begin construction on a new court facility adjacent to Inyo County Jail in Independence. He said work on the Independence facility should begin in the next couple years.
According to Lamb, the Administrative Office of the Court is currently working with a project advisory group in Bishop to identify a site for the new courthouse. He added that all property negotiations are confidential until they are complete, so he was unable to tell the board where that process was.
“Site selection in Bishop is going well,” Lamb said. “Once a preferred site is selected in Bishop, the AOC will have an architect evaluate it.”
Lamb added that “site acquisition is generally the biggest delay” in public works projects. But the AOC has an incentive to move as quickly as possible as public works contracts are currently coming in 20 percent lower than estimates due to the struggling economy.
Lamb said the courts have a “historic opportunity” to get the court job done under budget. “We’re trying to move as quickly as we can.”
From there the AOC can allocate Court Construction Funds for the purchase of the property, design of the building and ultimate construction.
In Independence, Lamb said the project will move faster, as the state has accepted the county’s offer to make a piece of property adjacent to the Inyo County Jail (between the jail and county Road Department yard) available for the court project.
“The AOC has given final approval for the court construction funds for design and construction of the court facility near the jail,” Lamb said, pointing out that there will be “several benefits” to having a court facility near the jail. Most notably, Lamb said, having the court and jail on adjacent properties will reduce the cost of transporting prisoners to and from court appearances.
Lamb said Inyo County was instrumental in getting the ball rolling on the Independence facility. “If it hadn’t been for Inyo, if we had to buy the land at fair market value, we couldn’t have swung it,” he said.
Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes said he was not sold on the idea of constructing a new courthouse in Independence.
“I can’t support a courthouse between the county yard and jail,” Cervantes said. “The historic courthouse is the most beautiful building we have, and it could be remodeled. That building plays a big part in the family history of the people of Inyo County.”
Cervantes said he does not want to see the historic courthouse vacated and would rather the AOC spend the money it has allocated for the new facility on improvements at the older location, such as an elevator to make the second floor of the courthouse ADA accessible.
“There is a better way to do this,” Cervantes said. “It’s really upsetting to me and a number of my constituents.”
Lamb said he shares many of Cervantes’ sentiments, adding that the AOC evaluated the historic courthouse and determined that constructing a new facility is more cost effective.
Lamb also pointed out that Inyo County has expressed great interest in utilizing the offices and other facilities in the historic building once the courts move into the new facility.
When the new courthouse is built in Independence, Lamb said the courts would still use the old building for overflow and ceremonial activities, but day-to-day operations would be moved to the new building, freeing up several offices for county use.
Second District Supervisor Susan Cash asked Lamb to set up a meeting with the AOC real estate team to answer any questions the county has about the process.
Lamb said the team is regularly conducting business in Inyo, and that he could arrange that meeting.