New Courthouse Excites Porterville Leaders
Porterville - Porterville civic leaders turned out last week to hail one of the most significant developments in that city ever.
The event was to celebrate the coming of a $90 million new courthouse and the building of a new Porterville Fairgrounds.
"This is probably the most substantial project we've ever seen in Porterville," said John Corkins, president of the Porterville Fair Board, before a crowd of more than 100 city leaders who turned out to celebrate the conclusion of what had been a long process.
More than two years ago discussions began on the city selling the land on East Olive Avenue where the Porterville Fairgrounds has sat for 60 years to make way for a full- service courthouse - the South County Justice Center.
Negotiations on the $2 million sale of city property were completed just in December and that paved the way for the new courthouse and the relocation of the fairgrounds to the Porterville Airport.
The state plans to construct a beautiful nine-courthouse on the southwest corner of the property that sits along Olive Avenue bordered by the old Santa Fe railroad on the west and Plano Avenue on the east. The California National Guard Armory, on the southeast corner, will remain.
The new courthouse will replace a sorely inadequate three-courtroom Porterville Courthouse. The new courthouse will handle criminal, misdemeanor and family court cases and will have more than four judges to start, with room to grow to as many as nine judges. Tulare County has 19 judicial positions and of those two are in Porterville now and two in Tulare.
"Nobody is happier than I am to have this facility," said Tulare County Superior Court Judge Glade Roper of Porterville. He served many years as judge in Porterville, but since the courts were consolidated, he was served in Visalia as well.
He said when he started 20 years ago, the Porterville judgeship was almost a part-time job. Today, he said the caseload is more like that for two people, often exceeding 800 cases a day.
He noted that when the court was consolidated in 1998, "the burden on this court was awesome." At that time the county began to look at options and one included moving everything to Visalia, another was to develop a full court in Porterville. The decision was eventually reached that Porterville needed a new courthouse - a decision fully supported by the state that listed the need in Porterville as one of its judicial priorities.
"This is the beginning to the answer of overcrowded conditions here," he noted
The new court will be state of the art in many ways, and perhaps the first building in the county with a "green roof."
Designer Dennis McFadden said the entire roof will be planted with vegetation. "It will be a green roof that extends out to the landscape," and will be utilized by employees and jurors, he said.
Noting that the courthouse is historically the centerpiece of a community, he said the Porterville Courthouse will be a "building for the 21st century" and will be "a 100 year building."
"We need to do a building the community can invest its pride in," said McFadden.
Another key feature of the project is that the building will be surrounded by earth berms and heavy landscaping. It will also feature an outdoor courtyard with walkup windows for people to do their business with the county.
"Our greatest goal is to have a great place to work and a place of dignity and calm for those who work with the justice system," he said.
Another feature of the new courthouse that Roper noted, is it will have 326 parking spaces. That is a huge gain over the fewer than 50 spaces at the current courthouse on Morton Avenue.
Construction should begin early next year with the opening scheduled for 2013.
The building is key to the revitalization of downtown Porterville, noted Mayor Pete McCracken. It is located less than two blocks from the main intersection of downtown - Olive Avenue and Main Street - and the city already has plans to incorporate the new courthouse into the downtown.
"Porterville, we've got it going,"said McCracken, adding, "This will be the foundation for revitalization of downtown Porterville."
Corkins noted that the fair board has been discussing for years the relocating the fairgrounds to give it more space, but only now have all the stars aligned to make that happen.
"This has been a wonderful process for this community. We think we'll have one of the premiere fairgrounds in the state of California," he said.
Work has already begun at the new site where Corkins hopes the 2011 Porterville Fair will be held.
The new fairgrounds, just southwest of the airport, is on a 25-acre site. It will include an open air arena designed to host many types of events, over 14,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space and an expo hall. More importantly, it will provide plenty of room for parking and future growth.
This year's fair in May will be the last at the Olive Avenue site.
State Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) was a key player in getting the courthouse funded.
"You are witnessing a transformation of this property and a new fairgrounds," he told the gathering. "Let it be a source of pride for the community.