Sacramento County Breaks Ground on New Courthouse

Architectural rendering of the new Sacramento County Superior Courthouse. (© NBBJ)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A long overdue makeover for one of California’s busiest state courts is finally underway as officials announced Friday construction has started on a half billion-dollar courthouse in downtown Sacramento.

After routinely getting bumped in favor of other courthouse projects and stalled by lack of funding over the last decade, Sacramento County Superior Court officials are celebrating the project’s progression from “mirage” to reality.

“Notwithstanding numerous challenges over the last decade, we finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Presiding Judge Russell Hom in a statement. “Replacing the antiquated downtown courthouse with a new state-of-the-art court facility will not only bring renewed prosperity to the Sacramento region but more importantly, meet the much-needed judicial needs of our growing community for years to come.”

Slated for 17 floors and 53 courtrooms, the new 538,000 square-foot building will cover an entire city block and house the court’s criminal and civil operations. At an estimated cost of over $480 million, the project also includes a large jury assembly room, food services, civil settlement center and will bring all of the court’s administrative arms under one roof.

With a projected completion date of December 2023, the building will replace the nearby Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse, which court executives describe as an outdated “logistical nightmare” and public safety challenge.   

Rising in the shadow of the similarly sized Robert T. Matsui Federal Courthouse, the new building will also allow the court to consolidate operations from three different facilities.

Named after the longtime dean of McGeorge School of Law, the current courthouse has a host of problems including a lack of fire sprinklers and just one circulation route for defendants that funnels inmates directly past the clerk and judges’ quarters. And most of the courtrooms are well below standard size.

“We’re in the dark ages,” the court’s executive officer and former judge Lloyd Connelly told Courthouse News during a tour in 2016. “We in Sacramento are used to this system, but other judges think we are nuts.”

But after securing a firm funding commitment from the Legislature and then-Governor Jerry Brown in 2018, the project in the northwest corner of downtown Sacramento is finally into the construction phase.

“Yes, a half-billion-dollar dream comes true. To all who have so generously put their shoulders to the wheel, we thank you! You have been heroes one and all. Because of you the mirage in the distance for years has become a reality — a Working Tower of Justice,” Connelly reacted Friday.

The pricey project continues the building boom in downtown Sacramento, as the courthouse is being built at the same time as a neighboring 21,000 seat soccer stadium. Health care giant Kaiser Permanente is also developing a new hospital on an 18-acre site in the so-called Railyards District.

The court’s new digs will remain near the main county jail, juror parking lots and will be easily accessible by public transit. Clark Construction is in charge of the project, its third with the Judicial Council of California, and NBBJ has signed on as architect.

Once completed, the Sacramento project will add to the lengthy list of court upgrades in recent years. According to the Judicial Council, 29 new or renovated California courthouses have been finished since 2002, including a $556 million downtown San Diego courthouse that opened in 2017.

Architectural rendering of the new Sacramento County Superior Courthouse, in the foreground. Four blocks up the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings NBA team, can be seen. The California Capitol building is dwarfed by the numerous skyscrapers in the city but can be seen peeking out in the top center of the photo. (© NBBJ)
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