County courthouse architect goes with more modern design

EVERETT — The new Snohomish County courthouse in downtown Everett won’t resemble a marble and granite justice temple from the days of yore.

Expect an angular high-rise that takes its styling cues in glass, concrete and aluminum from the county’s Robert J. Drewel building across the street. Standing about 143 feet, the new courthouse will rival the Drewel building in height.

The new courthouse won’t look like just another office building, lead architect Doug Kleppin said during a presentation Wednesday.

“It represents the third branch of government,” Kleppin said. “It represents law in our community.”

Kleppin is part of a team from Atlanta-based Heery International. County leaders last year had Heery take over a lead design role on the project after worries that another firm would fail to keep the $162 million project within budget. For some leaders, the courthouse budget remains a concern, despite assurances from some county leaders and Heery.

Another complication has been the city of Everett’s parking concerns. A tentative deal reached in April would have the county lease 300 spaces in a nearby garage to be built by the city. Everett planners expect to grant environmental and land-use approvals for the project soon.

Heery has designed more than 70 courthouses across the country.

Earlier this spring, the look of Snohomish County’s future courthouse prompted debate on the County Council. At least one councilman said he would prefer a more traditional appearance, with rounded columns instead of rectangular ones.

“We don’t have to import marble columns from Italy,” Councilman Terry Ryan said during the April 27 discussion. “It could be any material.”

Ryan, on Wednesday, again brought up the departure from classical justice buildings. Designs for the new building, he noted, include no images such as Lady Justice, the blindfolded, sword-wielding goddess, versions of which have been used to personify the justice system since Greek and Roman times.

Kleppin, in his presentation, called Heery’s design “an abstraction of the classical notion of what a courtroom should look like.”

“Obviously, we’re not building a Greek temple,” he said.

About 60 people showed up for the architect’s presentation.

The new building will go up on the north side of Wall Street, between Rockefeller and Oakes avenues. Its entrance and main public spaces will face south.

The site of the future courthouse now has a county-owned parking lot and six private businesses that the county acquired through eminent domain. The county hopes to start demolition this summer.

Designs show a building with 253,000 square feet spread throughout eight floors and a basement.

It’s significantly larger than the combined 165,000 square feet in the existing courthouse and historic Mission building that adjoins it. The new building, however, will have the same number of courtrooms: 20 for Superior and District courts plus a small hearings room.

Entry-floor service desks in the new courthouse would centralize public services from county clerks and other legal departments.

Other parts of the building will house the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office criminal division, sheriff’s office administrators, the Office of Public Defense and a law library.

The top two floors of the new building would be office space, but could be converted courtrooms if the need arises. The design includes seven elevators, compared to the three in the current building which often break down. The extra elevators would allow the public, court staff and inmates to move — or be moved — in separate spaces within the new building without mingling.

“You’re not going to be passing anybody in a jump suit or leg irons anymore,” Kleppin said.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Michael Downes called the courthouse designs well-thought-out. In particular, Downes liked the ability to separate people who are in custody from the general public — for the benefit of all involved. Making jury rooms and bathrooms more accessible to the physically disabled also would be a huge benefit, he said.

“It’s going to make everybody’s life easier,” he said.

The new building should use 25 percent less energy than a comparable building, Kleppin said. A rain-harvesting system is expected to generate 40 percent of the non-potable water used.

The county hopes to finish construction during the fall of 2017. After that, plans call for demolishing the existing courthouse, which dates from 1967. The Mission building, built in 1910, will remain.

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

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