Impressive — that was the word used again and again Monday morning by people touring the South County Justice Center, Porterville’s new $93.4 million courthouse.
The tours ran through the day following the morning’s dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
“It’s very impressive,” said Jay Rice, Burton School District trustee. “I think they put a lot of thought into this community.”
Rice said he liked the way the jury assembly room was designed.
“Especially the work station for the community members who are taking time off from their busy schedules. They can bring work with them. Before they couldn’t do anything,” Rice said.
He referred to the desk stations area of the spacious room where potential jurors assemble. The jury assembly room also includes a separate quiet room, a large airport-style waiting area and vending machines.
Rice was one of more than 300 people who toured the new facility on its historic opening to the public.
In the assembly room, also taking a tour, were students from GHHS’ Law and Justice Academy.
“I hope a lot of you have the opportunity to serve here,” Retired Judge Glade Roper said. “If nothing else, I hope you’ll all be jurors some day. You learn a lot and you will enjoy it.”
Listening in the audience was Victoria Mendoza, a third-year Academy student and junior at GHHS.
“I’m impressed. I never thought we would ever have a building like this in Porterville,” Mendoza said. “It makes us look like we are a not-so-little town. It’s beautiful.”
Walking through the lobby, Malcolm Franklin, senior emergency response and planning manager, office of security, with the Judicial Council of California, also praised the building.
“It’s fabulous. I hadn’t seen the completion. The last time I saw it was three weeks ago and everything was working really good,” Franklin said. “The security is the best there is — 140 cameras but all subdued. They aren’t in your face. They were designed carefully.”
Junior Russo, who lives in Tulare but works in Porterville, also admired it.
“I think it’s very beautiful and functional,” Russo said. “It’s very pretty.”
Porterville resident Cynthia Levario, a retired TCSO sergeant, said she would like to see the prisoner area.
“It’s very nice,” she said about the building. “I’ve worked 27 years with Tulare County Sheriff’s department. I hope they have more cell areas because they need them.”
Bertha Sheegs of Terra Bella and Carol Stowe of Porterville, two more women who have retired from working in the courtroom, also commented.
“This is so much nicer than we have had for years,” said Stowe, a retired deputy clerk. “The community should be very proud.”
Sheegs, a retired clerk to the court, agreed, saying that the new courthouse has features that benefit everyone.
“I especially like the outside windows. What a wonderful idea, to pay a fine or do some small clerk paper, and not have to go through the metal detectors,” Stowe said.
Dan Hackey, public relations officer with the Tule River Indian Tribe, also said he liked the idea of the walk-up windows.
“I just thought, how much easier this will be for everybody — not having to travel to Visalia now for court,” he said. “This is a state of the art facility — very impressive.”
Hackey also liked the windows and the thought of the ease of paying a ticket at the window.
“I’m very excited about it. We just broke ground on [Sept. 20] on ours,” said Monika Newman, Administrative Business Services and Facilities Deputy Court administrator in charge of the security of Kings County Superior Court. “It’s a wonderful accomplishment. I look forward to getting involved with [Kings County’s new courthouse.] It’s overwhelming. Kings County is due — we’ve had the same campus style since 1972. We have outlying courts. I want to see it consolidated into one beautiful courthouse.”
Leading one of the tours was Judge Lloyd L. Hicks, who also praised each area he walked through on the tour — from the walk-up windows and courtyard to the jury assembly room and courtrooms to the parking lot.
“One of the things the judges love is all this security parking,” he said as he looked out a second-story window, pointing out the area as he led a tour. “This is the only place in the county where we have this.”
Outside, two high school students, members of the Sheriff Explorers’ Post 355 — Samantha Elias, a sophomore at GHHS, and Joseph Banda, a senior at PHS — were busy helping with traffic and parking.
“It came out very nice and will bring a lot of attention to Porterville,” Banda said. “As soon as I graduate, I want to come and apply here and work as something.”
Elias also praised the building and said she wouldn’t mind working at the South County Justice Center — but the verdict was still out as to what career and which direction her life will take.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.