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Construction in full swing for new county courthouse
• In downtown Modesto
Courthouse construction
Construction of the new county courthouse is occurring between Ninth Street and Tenth Street, and G & H streets in Modesto. - photo by Jeff Benziger

It won’t be finished until the fall of 2024 but construction is in full swing on the new 309,000-square-foot, $340.5 million courthouse in downtown Modesto that will serve all of Stanislaus County.

Less than two miles from Ceres’ northern city limits, tThe eight-story project is going up in the city block bounded by G and H streets between Ninth and Tenth streets. The site was formerly occupied by multiple uses that included Turner Hardware and the Greyhound bus station. It block is catty corner from the Modesto Police Department headquarters.

The new 27 courtroom structure will replace the outdated and cramped facility built in the 1960s several blocks away.

Planning for the project began years ago with the 3.5-acre site selected in May, 2013. In November 2014, the State Public Works Board approved acquisition of the site and escrow closed on December 23, 2014. Funding wasn’t approved until last October.

The site also includes a portion of the block bounded by H and I Streets and 9th and 10th Streets for parking.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Westbrook said he is “excited that Stanislaus County will finally have a courthouse worthy of the court’s mission. The new building will reflect the dignity and seriousness of our task —to administer justice for all who enter its doors.”

The California Judicial Council, the policymaking body for the state courts, declared the county’s current court facilities as “overcrowded, lack security features to current standards, and hinder the court’s efficiency by dispersing services over many locations.”

The new courthouse will allow the county to place all court operations under one roof. Currently the court services are farmed out to five separate facilities, including the Small Claims Court at 300 Starr Avenue in Turlock, and Traffic Court at the former roller rink on Floyd Avenue east of Oakdale Road in Modesto. Juvenile Court is now held at the Juvenile Hall facility on Blue Gum Avenue in Modesto. Consolidating these facilities will enable the court to increase efficiency by retiring leases and centralizing operations, said Westbrook.

The project will feature improve security through enhanced entrance screening, separate hallways for the public, staff, and in-custody defendants, and properly-sized holding areas for in-custody defendants.

The project includes space for two future new judgeships and will enable the court to provide basic services not possible due to space restrictions. They include a self-help center, an appropriately sized public lobby and service counters, a properly sized and equipped jury assembly room and jury deliberation rooms, and rooms for family court mediation and attorney/client interviews, as well as a children’s waiting room.

Stanislaus County and Modesto city officials are interested in the redevelopment of the old courthouse, which is owned by the county and state, and are kicking around ideas that include a mixed-use of housing and offices and stores.

Since the state judicial branch took over California courthouses in 2002, the construction program has completed 31 new courthouse projects so far and another eight projects are in various stages. New courthouses have been constructed in Merced, Sonora, Madera, Porterville, Stockton, French Camp, Los Banos, Hollister, Mammoth Lakes, San Andreas, Chico, Yreka, San Jose, Pittsburg, Yuba City, Red Bluff, Hanford, Susanville, Long Beach and Banning.

The state will also need to decide what to do with the Ceres courthouse. The county was forced in 2008 to turn over the Ceres court building at 2744 Second Street, to the state of California Judicial Council Administrative Office of the Courts. The deal called for the county to pay the state $16,421 annually for maintenance and continue being responsible for earthquake liability for 35 years.

At the time, then Supervisor Jim DeMartini called the forced deal a “lousy deal,” adding “the state just rips off cities and counties every time they can.”

Ceres city officials were hoping to buy the 2,700-square-foot building on a 7,500 square foot lot, which could have been converted to city offices. But the Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002 forbids counties from deeding buildings over to other government agencies.