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Courthouse work may begin in 2010; fee weighed

Citizen Staff Writer



Construction of the stalled Joint Consolidated Justice and Tucson Municipal Courts complex could start next year.

But it may be partly funded by a $10 surcharge on case filings, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Voters approved $76 million for a new joint courthouse at the southeast corner of Stone and Toole avenues in a 2004 bond package. The project is stalled because construction costs for the original 415,000-square-foot design for 42 new courtrooms and nine hearing rooms rose to $157 million.

Huckelberry proposed that the complex be built in two phases: The first would be 255,800 square feet with 26 courtrooms and six hearing rooms that would suit court needs until 2018.

“By re-examining project design parameters, it has been determined that the facility can be significantly downsized to accommodate courtroom needs through 2018,” Huckelberry said.

The second phase of 132,000 square feet, including the remaining courtrooms and hearing rooms, would be built before 2028, Huckelberry said.

The county has spent $25.2 million of the $76 million of voter-approved bonds. The biggest portion – more than $12 million – went to archaeological work at the site to unearth and rebury remains from a pre-statehood cemetery.

It was known that the city’s earliest cemetery was under the site, but incomplete records, many kept by the Roman Catholic Church in the early years of the cemetery, led officials to greatly underestimate the number of remains.

“Nobody knew that there were 1,100 burials there,” Huckelberry said.

Other major expenditures to date were $6.6 million for architectural and engineering work, $4.7 million for land acquisition and about $1.5 million for demolition and utilities relocation.

Even with possible downsizing, the county is obligated for additional contracted work, leaving $27.5 million on hand for the project.

Huckelberry noted that a first phase would still cost about $80 million, about $52 million more than funding remaining at hand.

One possible funding option is another bond election, but that’s not likely before November 2010, he said.

Another could be the $10 per case fee for court cases. The charge would need approval by the supervisors and the City Council, Huckelberry said.

And the courts may have to decide if such a surcharge would be legal, he said.

The county has a wish list of $210 million from the federal stimulus package for planned bond capital projects, which includes $80 million for the courthouse.

Huckelberry said some federal stimulus funding for the courthouse project is possible but by no means certain.

“We haven’t heard a word about it,” Huckelberry said.

City, county courthouse complex construction could begin next year

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