The State Public Works Board in Sacramento today approved acquisition of three Santa Rosa properties needed to build a $178.7 million new Sonoma County criminal courthouse.

It's one of an estimated $380 million in projects for two new courthouses and one major renovation in North Bay counties in the next few years, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which manages courthouse projects.

The new Santa Rosa courthouse will be located on nearly seven acres in the Sonoma County Administration Center campus just east of the Hall of Justice -- the current main courthouse -- on a cleared site where the previous jail was located. The land includes parking adjacent to the new courthouse and in a current parking lot on Russell Avenue near the project site.

The county of Sonoma will sell the land to the Administrative Office of the Courts for $5.2 million, which is lower than its appraised value. The sale is set to close in mid-June. Richard Meier & Partners will finish architectural drawings in time for contractor bidding to potentially open in early 2014, construction starting a few months later and completion two years later.

Presiding Sonoma County judge Rene Chouteau attended the Sacramento meeting in Sacramento to answer any questions and show judicial leadership commitment and support for this project as a top priority for the court.

"Jurors are entitled to convenient and comfortable accommodations while performing their constitutional duty in the administration of criminal justice," he said in a statement.

The new courthouse project was ranked as an “immediate need” in the judicial branch’s capital-outlay plan, making it among the branch’s highest-priority infrastructure projects. It is funded by state Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008 to provide up to $5 billion in funding for new and renovated courthouses using court fees, penalties and assessments rather than taxpayer revenues from the state’s General Fund.

Court Executive OfficerJose Octavio Guillen called the vote for property purchases today a "huge milestone"

"The unique and complex nature of this site acquisition required a strong partnership to make this possible," he said. "Sonoma County residents will not only benefit from having a new, secure, and efficient criminal courthouse, but also from the hundreds of jobs created during the construction process that will help fuel our local economy.”

The 173,500-square-foot new courthouse will have 15 courtrooms, offices for court administration and clerk, security operations and holding, a jury assembly room and building support space. For project details, visit www.courts.ca.gov/facilities-sonoma.htm.

The new building will consolidate all criminal court operations in a single, secure facility for greater efficiency, according to the AOC.

The Hall of Justice, built in 1965, is inadequate, undersized and lacking current standard security features. The new building will also replace two courtrooms in the current jail as well as administrative space formerly located in a leased facility.

Other North Bay court projects moving forward are new courthouses in Lake and Mendocino counties and renovation to the Fairfield courthouse in Solano County.

Moves to cut court projects costs in earnest started in December, and that might significantly lower estimates, according to an AOC spokeswoman.

The first to go to bid will be the Fairfield renovation, having three courtrooms and including nearly 30,000 square feet. The estimated cost is $25.4 million. Bidding is set to open in spring of next year. For details, visit http://www.courts.ca.gov/facilities-solano.htm.

The Lake County project is in preliminary architectural plan stage, the AOC spokeswoman said. The State Public Works Board is set to consider the plan in the new fiscal year, which starts in July.

The 50,158-square-foot courthouse would have four courtrooms and could cost $56.0 million. For details, visit www.courts.ca.gov/facilities-lake.htm.

An environmental impact report was just completed for the Mendocino County courthouse project. Two sites are being considered, and the preferred one at this point is the railroad depot site. Site acquisition is set to be completed this fall.

The 113,757-square-foot building would have nine courtrooms and is estimated to cost $119.9 million. For details, visitwww.courts.ca.gov/facilities-mendocino.htm.