WOODLAND — “Welcome to the tallest building in Woodland.”
So said Dave Phelps, project manager for the Yolo County Courthouse construction site, during a recent tour of the downtown Woodland construction zone — including an elevator ride to the building’s rooftop.
With views of historic Main Street at its feet and both the Sutter Buttes and the downtown Sacramento skyline in the distance, “this is the best view in the whole county,” said Phelps, whose employer Hensel Phelps Construction Co. is overseeing the project.
Anyone who has traveled along Main Street over the past year likely has seen it take shape — five stories above ground (and one more below), with an expansive columned entrance on the building’s north side.
“We hope to move in by the end of April 2015, if everything goes smoothly,” said Yolo Superior Court Judge Kathleen White, the court’s assistant presiding judge and member of the advisory and design group for the $167 million project.
Once complete, the new courthouse will span 163,000 square feet between Main, Lincoln, Fifth and Sixth streets, with 14 courtrooms, increased space for jurors and other courthouse visitors, attorney-client conference rooms, plus more efficient methods for everyday court business such as filing paperwork.
“We designed it function-first,” White said, focusing on the courtrooms that will consolidate court operations currently spread among a half-dozen buildings in downtown Woodland — including the existing courthouse, which was designed for just two courtrooms when it was built in 1917.
But although thoroughly modern, the new structure still shares similar characteristics with the current courthouse, such as the concrete-and-granite exterior reminiscent of the historic Court Street building.
For the inside, the courthouse design committee selected materials that were durable and functional, but also reflected the formality that such a project requires, White said. An emphasis on using stock materials has kept the construction within budget, she added.
Still, there are some custom touches, such as the stainless-steel staircase that will serve as a focal point of the courthouse’s entryway. It was designed by Woodland Welding Works, one of more than 20 local subcontractors that have contributed to the project, White said.
The 14 courtrooms will range in size from 1,800 to 2,400 square feet, with the two largest based on the first floor to accommodate the court’s highest-volume calendars — traffic court and arraignments. The court’s filing clerks will be located on the ground floor as well. The criminal, civil, family and juvenile courts will occupy the upper floors.
Though little more than concrete slabs for now, each courtroom eventually will feature what White calls a “universal” design, “so that any kind of proceeding could be done in any courtroom,” she said.
There’s also the security factor, with below-ground parking for judges and facilities that will do away with the existing “chain gangs” — lines of cuffed-together inmates who must cross Third Street out in the open to get from the court holding facility to the main courthouse.
At the new courthouse, inmates will be transported from the county jail to holding cells in the building’s basement, where secure elevators await to transport them to their assigned courtrooms.
“No more sitting there, uncomfortable, while the person who beat you up the week before walks right by you,” White said.
Throughout the building, windows and skylights will take maximum advantage of natural light — even in the interior courtrooms, where small windows will be placed along the wall behind the judge’s bench.
Outside, the courthouse grounds will feature native, water-wise plantings, selected under the advisement of UC Davis experts, White said. The design includes plans for an open, park-like courtyard at the building’s entrance to serve as a gathering place.
Raaj Patel, project manager for construction management company Kitchell CEM, said builders are striving for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating, which, given the project’s budget constraints, “is quite an accomplishment,” Patel said.
The silver rating — third-highest behind platinum and gold — considers factors such as energy and water efficiency, use of recycled materials and indoor environmental quality.
Public reaction to the ongoing construction has been positive, White said.
“They’re just really pleased that it’s downtown and it looks good,” she noted of community members. “They’re really adopting it as a community project.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene
Watch it live
Watch progress on construction of the new Yolo County Courthouse in real time via a video feed on the court’s website: www.yolo.courts.ca.gov/NewWoodlandCourthouse/ConstructionsiteLiveStreaming.html