State approves preliminary plans for new Los Banos courthouse

MERCED, Calif.

The current Los Banos courthouse was built in 1980, and officials say it lacks space, services and modern security measures. But they expect the new facility to address all of those issues.

Hundreds of people walk through the doors of the Los Banos courthouse every day, but all of the cases are handled in just one courtroom. It's often filled to capacity with standing room only.

"Approximately 35 percent of the criminal cases come from Los Banos and this one courtroom out of the 12 courtrooms that are in Merced, so a huge volume comes from this courtroom," Merced CO. Presiding Judge Brian McCabe

McCabe says that is just one issue with this decades old building. It also lacks a jury room and a second judge, which are needed to hold jury trials and family law services are not available. Safety is also a concern.

"This courthouse was built in a different era that didn't take into consideration security capacity to handle the volume it has coming through here. So there's a number of issues they didn't foresee with the population growth that are now affecting court operations," McCabe said.

That is why Merced County has received preliminary approval to build a new courthouse on this empty lot near G Street and Mercey Springs Road. This architect's rendering shows what the 29,000 square foot building may look like. The state public works board approved the initial drawings earlier this month, and judge McCabe said it's essentially a done deal.

"At this point the vetting is done, so we can expect ground to be broken here in the near future and completion in the summer of 2016," McCabe said.

The new facility will have a campus style lay-out that leaves room for a future Los Banos police department and a county building to hold offices that are currently in these portables including district attorney's staff. And right away, it will offer two courtrooms.

"We'll be able to distribute the case load evenly, especially once we get our new appointed judge because right now we're short two judges, so that's going to help tremendously," Merced Superior Court Executive Officer Linda Romero-Soles said.

Many projects like this one have been denied or postponed because the state shifted money for new courthouses to other areas. Judge McCabe said Merced County proved how great the need is in Los Banos and he is grateful the vetting committee made it a priority.

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