New Los Banos courthouse plans approved by state panel

Preliminary drawings for Los Banos’ new courthouse were approved by a state panel last week, increasing the likelihood that the project will be finished in 2016.

Keby Boyer, spokeswoman for the California Administrative Office of the Courts, said the California Public Works Board OK’d the architectural design. The project is now in the working drawings phase, which provides specifications from which the structure will be built. Barring setbacks, construction is scheduled to begin May 2015 and the courthouse will open the following year.

Boyer said Friday’s approval nearly ensures the courthouse will be constructed.

“Once it goes to working drawings, you’re so close,” she said. “Things can happen, but so much money is invested.”

In 2009, the state authorized $32.6 million, later reduced to $32.2 million, to be spent in Los Banos on construction of a court building with two courtrooms, with room to expand to four.

The Robert M. Falasco Justice Center, where court is held now, 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.

Linda Romero-Soles, the court executive officer for Merced Superior Court, has repeatedly said Los Banos is in need of a new courthouse because of the increasing number of cases coming from the West Side.

“What a nice Christmas gift to get this news, Romero-Soles said in email. “The court is so thankful that the Public Works Board approved our preliminary plans for Los Banos and that our project is moving forward.”

The Los Banos courthouse is one of few such projects around the state given approval to move forward.

In 2012, 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 include new courthouses in Los Banos, Sonora and Modesto.

The new Los Banos court is to be built near the intersection of G Street and Mercey Springs Road.