Courthouse overhaul to be reviewed

Faced with a statewide budget crisis, a high panel of judges agreed this week to allow 13 planned court construction projects, including an overhaul of Glendale's facility, to be reassessed in an effort to cut costs.

The state's Court Facilities Working Group will look at trimming roughly $1.1 billion worth of planned projects by reducing square footage, renovating existing buildings, employing lower cost construction and assessing lease options, according to a state report.

Officials also will prioritize the projects according to the greatest need.

“While we proceed with the most critically needed courthouses that we intend to move forward with, we need to take a very close look at every project to determine that when we're able to build them, they're built efficiently and very economically,” said Brad Hill, the presiding judge of the administrative office who chairs the Court Facilities Working Group. “And if they can't be built economically, they shouldn't be built. They should be canceled — pure and simple.”

David Lampe, who spoke on behalf of the Alliance of California Judges at a meeting in San Francisco Tuesday, suggested a temporary suspension of construction projects and contracting “until the budget picture becomes more clear.”

He proposed an independent evaluation of the projects to find ways of lowering costs.

“We do recognize, fully recognize, the need for secure, well-maintained facilities and we do not minimize the state of disrepair and inadequacy in many state courthouses,” he said. But, he continued, “we should not encumber or commit funds now without knowing the total budget picture.”

Costs for a new 110,000-square-foot Glendale courthouse on 600 block of East Broadway were expected to hit $123.9 million.

The new Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse, which officials say is needed to address overcrowding and security issues, was projected to be as tall as five stories, with eight courtrooms and a parking structure.

But those plans are likely to change.

One justice noted during the meeting that building a new courthouse in Glendale at the existing building site didn't make sense because there are two other facilities within miles of each other in the region.

State court officials plan to look into renovation as an option for improving the nearly 60-year-old building, according to the state report.

“We're confident the minimum cost reductions and more can be achieved without compromising safety, security, building performance or court operations,” said Jeffrey Johnson, chairman of the courthouse cost reduction subcommittee. “We will have functional, safe and cost effective buildings.”

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