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New Superior Courthouse groundbreaking soon

A groundbreaking ceremony is expected in mid-February for the new 71-courtroom San Diego Superior Courthouse that will be built at Union and C streets north of the existing Hall of Justice.

The San Diego Superior Courthouse will also consolidate the Family Court at 1501-55 Sixth Ave., and the Madge Bradley Court at 1409 Fourth Ave., along with the criminal trial, and civil courts into the 22-story, 704,000 square-foot tower.

The new building will be linked to the Hall of Justice via a covered pedestrian bridge.

According to Michael Roddy, San Diego Superior Court executive officer, construction costs will be $448 million. Roddy didn't have a figure for planning, engineering or permitting.

Roddy said that along the way, the state had been forced to cut expenses in order to deal with budget realities in Sacramento.

Without numerous changes, which included eliminating a tunnel that would have linked the courthouse to the Central Jail, the bare construction cost might have exceeded $600 million.

Increased court fees and fines -- as per State Senate Bill 1407, approved by the Legislature about three years ago -- will pay for the project.

A couple of years ago, it appeared that the funds could be diverted away for other purposes as a result of the state's budget crisis. A lobbying effort by trial lawyers and others prevented that from happening.

Another factor was that the San Diego courthouse wasn't the only one deemed in critical need of replacement; courthouses from Los Angeles to Mendocino had made similar pitches.

An exterior rendering of the new courthouse. Courtesy photo

Both Los Angeles and San Diego are scheduled to get their new state courthouses by fall 2016. The international design firm of Skidmore Owings & Merrill is designing both facilities.

Roddy said buildings on the downtown San Diego block -- which included the old King Stahlman Bail Bonds site -- have been boarded up and are awaiting demolition. Asbestos on the property will need to be removed before the construction can proceed.

Even with a scaled-back project, Skidmore said the design will make a statement.

"The limestone-faced precast concrete tower and podium will rise above a new public plaza," Skidmore wrote. "The full-block footprint of the courthouse supports the transformation of the adjacent courthouse lot into a new public park, which, together, will establish a pedestrian landscape of generous sidewalks, planter boxes and trees."

"In the spirit of civic buildings whose presence was strong but accommodating, the design seeks to update this formal repertoire with a language of robust subtractive massing which encloses a safe and welcoming interior," Skidmore continued.

Skidmore drawings for the neighborhood show while some sort of development is expected on that portion of the old courthouse property that is directly east of the Hall of Justice.

Future development is also expected for that block bounded by A,B, Union and Front streets. The park would be on the block between the two developed lots.

Skidmore -- which has been active here with projects at University of California, San Diego including a 1,220-bed dormitory complex at the campus -- is also the designer for the Freedom Tower being built adjacent to the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Rudolph & Sletten, construction manager for the San Diego courthosue project, has been involved with projects here --including the initial buildings of Jay Paul Co.'s proposed 3.2-million-square-foot office complex where Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) makes its home in a 190,000-square-foot building in Rancho Bernardo.

The contracting and construction management firm also has completed jobs for the San Diego Zoo, the Salk Institute and the San Diego Community College District.

Despite talk of rehabbing the old state courthouse at 220 West Broadway that dates back to the 1960s, it is loaded with asbestos, and would require more seismic upgrades than the buildings are worth.

The state agreed with San Diego County government that these structures would have to come down anyway, regardless of a need for the new courthouse.

The county of San Diego donated the site for the new courthouse about three years ago, in lieu of having to pay the millions of dollars to keep the old property going. The old courthouse will have to suffice until at least October 2016, when the new facility is slated to open.

Roddy said he is glad that the courthouse is finally going to be built.

"We've been working for 30 years on this," he added.

Roddy said it was "far too early to talk about" demolishing the old courthouse.

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