By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County is hitting the pause button on its $75 million courthouse project so the new executive can give the plans a thorough vetting.
County leaders said they want full support from Executive John Lovick’s team before pushing ahead with an aggressive construction schedule. Lovick, the former sheriff who was appointed executive on June 3, has a management team stacked with career law enforcement professionals. His second in command is the former U.S. Marshal, and responsible for security at federal courthouses in Western Washington.
As is, the county is on track to break ground next spring and finish during the first half of 2016. Whether that time line changes remains to be seen.
“We’re looking 50 or 60 years we’ll have to rely on this building so it’s very important that we get it right,” County Councilman Dave Somers said. “I think it’s also important that we make sure we understand all our space needs in the county, not only in the courts, but (in) other departments.”
The County Council on Monday passed a motion formalizing the request for the executive’s review. It passed 3-0.
Some of the concerns about the new building are: safeguarding the public and court staff; earthquake readiness; and how well the building would suit the county’s space needs in decades to come.
The request comes a week after some County Council members were surprised to learn that the county might need up to $1.6 million in consulting work to see the project through. County facilities officials said the money owes in part to an alternative bidding process that should keep the project’s costs from ballooning later on.
The new county administration supports the extra courthouse review.
Until the council appointed him as executive this month, Lovick, a retired state trooper, had been serving his second term as county sheriff. He replaced former Executive Aaron Reardon, who stepped down May 31 after a series of scandals that have spawned an ongoing criminal investigation and two state probes related to his 2011 re-election.
Lovick’s first personnel move was to hire Mark Ericks as his second-in-command.
To take the county job, Ericks resigned as U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington, where he was the top official responsible for safety at the region’s federal courts.
That experience should be useful in sizing up the county courthouse.
“I would like to have the opportunity to weigh in on whether it’s enough or too much,” Ericks told the County Council Monday. “An opinion backed by some professional review that would tell us whether the building we’re building to serve the public for the next 50 to 60 to 75 years is going to serve the public as best it can.”
Early-stage planning calls for a seven-story, 160,000- square-foot building with 20 courtrooms, streamlined customer service counters.
It would replace the county’s 1967 courthouse in downtown Everett and would be built on top of the plaza to the north. In February, county leaders opted to build a new courthouse because renovating the old one wouldn’t solve a host of problems, including inherent security flaws.
The new courthouse, under the current proposal, would not expand available space. It would be built to make future additions easier, though.
That means the proposed building would not have room for county deputy prosecutors or some other county staff tied directly to the courts. They would be housed elsewhere on the county’s downtown Everett campus.
A 30-year bond is paying for the construction and demolition work. It also would cover renovating the county’s historic Mission Building.
Part of the reason for moving ahead quickly is a legal requirement to spend 80 percent of bond proceeds within three years.
“This speed may be adding unexpected costs and affecting the ability to develop a design concept that addresses both the immediate as well as the future system requirements,” according to the motion the council passed Monday.
Councilman Brian Sullivan urged the extra review, but said county facilities staff have done a great job advancing the project they’ve been asked to work on.
“This is no reflection on their good work and their professionalism,” Sullivan said.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.