This building on East Main Street in Quincy has housed the Plumas County Probation Department and, most recently, the Plumas Unified School District administration offices. It now sits empty. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Supervisors ponder empty building’s purpose

By Victoria Metcalf

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Coming with the assurance of the Plumas County Board of Supervisor’s Chairperson, Jeff Engel, one purpose that the East Quincy facility known as the “Old Probation Building” won’t include is relocation of the district attorney’s offices.

At least one other supervisor responded in favor of keeping the district attorney and any part of the department’s programs within the courthouse.

Just what supervisors want to do with the facility at 1446 E. Main St., was part of County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick’s venture into determining what the county could do with a facility that’s stood vacant for the last year-and-a-half.

Hydrick’s proposals came as part of the regular Jan. 12 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. “I don’t want this to affect your health,” Chairman Engel told District Attorney David Hollister after Hollister objected strongly to moving to the facility.

Hollister was the only department head present to discuss possible moves and changes. In his statement to supervisors Hollister said that he “vehemently opposed” anything that would move any part of or his entire department from the courthouse.

Structure’s uses

In his presentation to supervisors, Hydrick outlined possible uses for the currently vacant former probation building owned by Plumas County. He said that the facility could include departments to form a true one-stop center, or relocate various county offices to the space.

Using what Hydrick called a matrix of his proposals, he discussed combination uses of the 5,000 square foot building.

That building was originally constructed for lease to the State of California as office space. The county’s probation department and then offices for Plumas Unified School District and the Office of Education have occupied the building. For a time it looked like Plumas Charter School would lease the building for offices and classrooms, but decided not to do that, according to Hydrick.

Another potential use is for a new facility for Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center. Its longtime building was destroyed by fire in July.

Proposed use potential

Proposals, as presented by Hydrick, stem from office space needs expressed by some department heads, or a true one-stop center including Environmental Health, Planning and Building departments could be established.

In a point-by-point use proposal, Hydrick outlined options for supervisors to consider.

“Some spatial needs and opportunities” include space for the county’s human resource offices. “Human Resources current space is too small and needs more room for testing, interviewing, confidential conversations and conferencing as well as filing systems,” Hydrick said.

County counsel has sufficient office space but is short of filing space, Hydrick explained for a second suggestion. Those offices on the third floor of the courthouse were remodeled not long ago to more comfortably provide space for a third attorney.

Risk Management also needs office space for confidential meetings and interviews. Hydrick explained that office space for both risk management and the county administrator could remain where they are. Hydrick is also the head of risk management.

Alterative Sentencing, a program created and operated under the district attorney’s umbrella of services was part of  Hydrick’s fourth potential use changes.

The Day Reporting Center (DRC), operated under Alternative Sentencing, will be included in the county’s new jail, but Hydrick made the proposal based on the construction timeline for that structure.

Hydrick suggested that human resources, and office space for both probation and behavioral health could work together. This would also include the DRC until its new offices are completed.

Alternative Sentencing, which operates out of the fourth floor of the courthouse, could relocate to first floor offices now occupied by human resources, Hydrick proposed.

A fifth proposal could see part of the district attorney’s office moving to the third floor and housed in the area now occupied by county counsel. Hydrick pointed out. That proposal hinges on county counsel moving from its third floor location in the courthouse to the old probation building.

“On the other hand, the district attorney’s office can occupy the entire old probation building with controlled access and located next door to the sheriff’s office,” Hydrick explained.

And in a final proposal if planning and building departments were relocated to the old probation building, the current permit center at 555 Main Street in Quincy, could be used by the district attorney’s office. This could also include the DRC until it relocates to the new jail, according to Hydrick’s proposal.

District attorney’s objections

“Additionally, clients seeking services would not have to enter the office that is prosecuting them and they can comfortably and confidently seek needed services,” according to Hydrick’s written comments to supervisors.

Hollister took exception to Hydrick’s proposal within the backup materials. Alternatives Services is located next to his other offices. It also includes everything the programs need when working with clients. Participation in the DRC portion of Alternative Sentencing is voluntary, Hollister pointed out.

“The very last thing I want to do is get the district attorney out of the courthouse,” explained Supervisor Greg Hagwood. As retired sheriff, Hagwood understands the workings of the district attorney’s offices. And having worked at the sheriff’s office located just next door, he said he was very familiar with the old probation building.

This is at least the second attempt that’s surfaced in moving part or all of the district attorney’s offices. About five years ago, there was a move from a former probation chief to move the facility and eliminate the DRC.

While Hollister recognizes there might be issues with the relative safety of the fourth floor of the courthouse, he and his staff would move if that became a reality.

“The fourth floor of the Plumas County Courthouse has existed for 100 years,” Hollister told supervisors. “A decade ago a report was created to highlight deficiencies throughout the courthouse for use in trying to secure funding from the state to build a new courthouse,” he explained. “There is no new report.” The fourth floor (where concerns focused) in the report, also houses the jury deliberation room.

“There is no exigency or factual support for the requested moves, which would be both incredibly expensive as well as decrease the services provided to Plumas County taxpayers,” Hollister said.

But by moving all or a portion of the district attorney’s programs without a just reason, “will make our job impossible,” Hollister said.

Pointing to one area, Hollister said his staff has only 48 hours to research and pull together all review information on each case as an arrest occurs. If Hollister’s office doesn’t have the review information ready, the person gets to be released. He added that it didn’t matter if an individual was facing charges stemming from a minor offense or murder, the process is the same.     

Hollister said it’s hard on his staff to work through the pandemic, but the additional pressure brought on by a potential move made working even more stressful.

Engel, at length, repeated to the district attorney and others that they would not have to leave the courthouse. Hagwood also threw his support toward keeping the district attorney and his programs within the courthouse.

Potential costs

Cost estimates on any of the proposals before supervisors haven’t been calculated. Hydrick said that if supervisors concentrated on choosing an option from his first three proposals, he could then more accurately determine the costs moves and changes to the building could mean.

A true one-stop center

Supervisor Jeff Engel in explaining the option he favors at this point, is following through with a true one-stop center.

When Plumas County Supervisors approved the purchase of the former Feather Publishing building near the courthouse approximately 20 years ago, it was with the notion a true one-stop center could be offered for those with planning, building and environmental health business.

Planning and building are located on the ground floor of the new county facility, but it fell short of Engel’s expectations. “Let me draw all of you a picture,” Engel said.

Calling it “one of the driving needs,” Engel went to a white board and diagramed simply the locations of the public works building, the county building and planning departments, and the environmental health program at the county annex. “Tell me what part of that is  one stop?” Engel asked indicating the present distances of the current program and how far someone who needs a permit has to travel.

Services for all three departments could be located in the old probation building, he explained. Laboratory services now required at environmental health could remain where they are in the county annex building, Engel explained.

Engel also said that with a front desk area that covers all of the programs within the proposed one-stop center, it would cut down on the number of people now needed to cover more locations.

“Though more costly, a good alternative is to relocate the permit center to the old probation building,” Hydrick said although he had no cost estimates at present time.

He said that the proximity to the public works department, east of the probation building, “lends itself to a more functional location” for a one-stop permit center, according to Hydrick.

Both department heads, Tracey Ferguson for the planning department, and Chuck White for the building department, have reviewed the plans and visited the building to see if it would meet their needs. “Notwithstanding minor improvements, the facility will meet their needs in the short term, but improvements will need to be made,” Hydrick said.

Both short and long-term changes would include enlarging the front counter opening; constructing partition walls in two of the large offices, add an office and modify restroom sink heights.

“It could be determental to move building and planning to the old probation building with temporary or short-term improvements that last for years down the road due to economic stresses,” Hydrick explained.

Also, both building and planning are adequately housed for now, but services do not include office space for environmental health and public works.

Time to consider

Supervisor Kevin Goss said he was interested in seeing proposed costs for any of the proposals remaining on the table.

Hagwood also said he wanted to look into the possibility of finding a new  tenant for the old probation building. He said that there was no reason to make a decision Jan. 12.

Hagwood said he applauded Hydrick’s work on trying to find ways to make things work. What he’s interested in is finding a solution that doesn’t include the district attorney’s participation.

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