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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 12:35 am | Fair 45º

 
 
 
 

Supervisors Authorize Courthouse Tower Closure, Repair

Iconic Santa Barbara structure will get new elevator and other improvements

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse observation tower will close for nearly seven months as construction crews begin work replacing and modernizing the elevator in January.

The county Board of Supervisors this week authorized planned renovations during a meeting with a full administrative agenda, which also included approving a contract salary increase with the Service Employees International Union.

Officials for months have known crews would need to replace the tower elevator at the courthouse on Anacapa Street — two other elevators have since been updated — because it is original to the building, and was designed to serve all levels except the observation deck.

ADA accessibility concerns have risen more recently since some visitors cannot exit the elevator at the fourth floor and walk up the 12 steps of the narrow service stairwell to reach the tower observation deck.

According to county staff, the location offering panoramic views of the city draws more than 200,000 visitors annually.

“Historic structures are often the last frontier of ADA accessibility, yet they comprise the most impressive architectural experiences and views,” Barry Stotts, an access advocate with Community Access Network, said Thursday in a press event outside the courthouse. “We’re very pleased that the County continues to improve access for residents and visitors. When this is project is complete, everyone will be able to enjoy a bird’s eye view of this beautiful community.”

Regularly scheduled, free public tours of the courthouse will continue during the closure — slated to end in July — although the elevator and clock gallery will be closed.

The Mural Room will also be undergoing conservation work from January to May 2015, although visitors can continue viewing the room.

The supervisors authorized county staff to solicit bids for the project in June, and Tuesday they approved a contract with Santa Maria-based Vernon Edwards Constructors, Inc. for a base amount of $685,000.

The county will also hire a public-relations firm to spread word of the planned closure.

“It’s an honor for us to have a hand in renovating this historic courthouse and Santa Barbara County landmark,” Vernon Edwards Constructors President Todd Edwards said Thursday.  “We are committed to bringing the project in on time and budget and reopening the clock tower as soon as possible.” 

Crews will replace old machinery equipment, extend the rails, modernize the elevator cab and hall call buttons, and add doors and a landing to the observation deck.

The project — slated to be complete in summer 2015 — will be paid for with a combination of Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds, certificates of participation, and deferred maintenance funds, staff said.

The supervisors, by a 4-1 vote, also approved a 5-percent wage increase for social worker employees in the Career Employment Specialist job classification, negotiating a tentative agreement with the Service Employees International Union, Local 721. 

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing the increase was unreasonable based on a study comparing the wages of several neighboring counties but not properly factoring in inflation.

“I think they work really hard, but that’s not the issue here,” he said. “I think further increases are unfair given wages of private sectors.”

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal countered Adam’s statistics, emphasizing the importance of allowing employees their first salary increases since 2008.

SEIU representatives lauded the move as a step in the right direction.

Officials authorized the raise, effective Sept. 29, as a budget revision, allocating an increase of $283,200 in General Fund contribution to the Department of Social Services — where all but three of the employees who will be affected by the wage increase work — for fiscal year 2014-15.

The cost of the recommended actions will be paid from various funding sources, as well as federal and state reimbursements.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

An evening sunset captured from the observation tower at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. (Photo courtesy Bill Heller Photography, Santa Barbara)

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