Los Banos To Get New Courthouse

FRESNO, Calif. It's a project that many people say is long overdue but one that also comes with some controversy.

The Merced County Superior Court Branch in Los Banos houses the only courtroom on the growing Westside.

"Usually it's so crowded, you're in here 4 or 5 hours," said Robert Bowen of Los Banos.

And to make matters worse, the building is also stuffed with several offices.

"We have outgrown it, and when I say we, the Sheriff's Office, District Attorney, Probation, Public Defender, and the Courthouse are all under one roof in Los Banos," said Sheriff Mark Pazin.

Sheriff Mark Pazin says the 30-year-old building also lacks modern security features.

But now the State Public Works Board has formally approved plans to replace it with a new $32.6 million facility.

"We're expecting a facility that's much larger than the current facility. We're considering whether we're going to add space for juries and jury trials," said Judge Kirihara, Merced Co. Presiding Judge.

But Kirihara admits not everyone is happy to see the plans for the nearly 30,000 square foot facility -- or other new courthouses across the state -- at a time when existing courts are being forced to close one day a month to save money.

"There are those who feel the court construction money should be diverted to those ongoing operations because it's anticipated that there may be even further reductions in the next fiscal year," said Kirihara.

However Judge Kirihara points out that the construction money comes from a state bond that was passed specifically for new courthouses.

He also adds that the projects will help stimulate the economy by creating jobs, and they will cost less to complete now than later.

An advisory group will start the process of choosing a site for the new Los Banos Courthouse next month, and it's expected to be open for business by 2014. Construction on the new courthouse is expected to get underway in about two years.

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