County changes architects on courthouse project

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council voted Wednesday to switch the main architect on its future $162 million courthouse, after receiving designs that didn’t fit within budget.

The action reassigns the work from ZGF Architects of Seattle to Heery International, an Atlanta-based firm already consulting on the project.

A ZGF spokeswoman said Wednesday afternoon that nobody working on the Snohomish County project was available for comment.

The change again focuses attention on the costs of the nine-story building envisioned on the north side of Wall Street, between Rockefeller and Oakes avenues.

“There was a disagreement with the architect,” County Council Chairman Dave Somers said after the vote. “The council has made it extremely clear that we have set the budget, and that’s the budget.”

The change passed 3-1. Opposing the move was Councilman Ken Klein, who urged the council to come up with a “plan B” for a cheaper building.

Councilman Terry Ryan, later in the day, said he agreed with some of Klein’s concerns, but he’s not ready to push for a different plan.

“What we need is we need to make sure we get a quality building,” Ryan said. “I want to give … Heery the chance to provide it for us.”

As new council members who first took office this year, Klein and Ryan didn’t vote for the current proposal. They’ve been surprised to learn about the winding path the courthouse plans have traveled since their inception.

The county for years has been looking to replace its 1967 justice building. Problems there include asbestos, exterior concrete walls at risk of falling during an earthquake and a physical layout that makes it near impossible to keep the public or court staff separated from defendants in criminal cases.

After convening a study group in 2012, the county settled on a plan to remodel the old building and add a new wing. In early 2013, the $75 million proposal morphed into a plan to construct an entirely new building. That decision occurred after council members were told that it wouldn’t cost much more than the remodel. Even a complete overhaul, they reasoned, wouldn’t have cured some of the old building’s ills.

By the time John Lovick took office as county executive in mid-2013, the county already had taken out bonds to pay for the new courthouse. When Lovick’s staff reviewed the project at the council’s request, they determined the designs were inadequate — and the $75 million price tag unrealistic. They offered up a new set of options, which they said reflected true costs.

The County Council, with Lovick’s support, in November chose to build the new courthouse, mostly on a county parking lot across the street from the main campus. At $162 million, it would cost nearly $30 million more than estimates for a similar building next to the old courthouse.

About a half-dozen property owners stand to be displaced through eminent domain. Some are upset about the choice since the county could have built elsewhere for lower cost. The county filed paperwork in Superior Court on July 1 to condemn the properties, which include three law offices.

The new courthouse architect will work with the county’s general contractor, Hoffman Construction Co. of Seattle.

Lovick’s staff recommended changing firms.

The contract with ZGF, the outgoing architecture firm, was for a little over $1 million, but was bound to go much higher.

Early in the project, the county set a $4.6 million budget for architectural services. That was before the total price tag of the building more than doubled.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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