EVERETT — Demolition crews are preparing to tear down some of the low-rise buildings that Snohomish County seized for a courthouse project that was later cancelled.
Other properties condemned for the ill-fated project are getting converted to office space.
The two buildings slated for demolition next month once housed a law practice and a legal messenger service. Once they’re gone, the empty lots figure to host workers and equipment during a major renovation of the old county courthouse up the street.
“Over the short term, we think it’s where the construction trailers are going to go,” county facilities Director Mark Thunberg said. “Long-term, it’s going to be parking.”
The county used eminent domain to buy a half-dozen properties on Rockefeller Avenue and Wall Street. At the time, elected leaders were planning to build a new courthouse. Along with a county-owned parking lot, the condemned properties would have made space for the new eight-story building.
That all happened in 2014. The following year, a majority of the County Council abruptly shut down the $162 million project over cost and parking concerns. That left the county with $3.6 million in condemned property. A small parking lot was put to use, but five taxpayer-owned buildings sat empty.
County leaders later opted to renovate the existing courthouse building, at about half the cost of a new one. Major construction is set to start in May.
The main feature of the renovation is a new five-story wing. Among other upgrades, it’s intended to provide a secure entryway, modern bathrooms and reliable elevators. Work is scheduled to last roughly a year.
Once the addition is complete, workers are set to renovate the adjoining courthouse building, which dates from the 1960s. The entire project is targeted to wrap up in 2021.
County officials say they’re on time and on budget, despite the run-up in labor and material costs during the boom economy.
The courthouse remodel is forecast to cost about $72 million. That’s on top of another $12 million spent on the cancelled project.
The two buildings set to be torn down are not considered usable because of rain damage, said Thunberg, the facilities director.
After the county took ownership, crews removed asbestos, lead paint and other hazardous materials, but that allowed water to seep in.
One of the two buildings set to be torn down used to belong to defense attorneys Brian and Melissa Sullivan. They’re upset that the county wasted millions of dollars only to use the eminent domain properties for a different purpose than what was originally intended. They also called it ironic their former Rockefeller Avenue property would be converted to a parking lot, when a shortage of parking was one of the factors that doomed plans for a new courthouse.
“We would have gladly purchased the property back and restored it to its proper purpose,” they said in an email. “The building had many years of useful life remaining, had the county chosen to maintain it. Instead, the building was lost to eminent domain, even after we spoke out at County Council meetings that the lack of parking was a major problem. We were ignored.”
Three other buildings acquired through eminent domain will be left standing. They’re being converted to office space.
Under plans now taking shape, the former law office of David Jolly on Rockefeller Avenue will house District Court administrators, Thunberg said.
Next door, Royce Ferguson’s former law office will become the headquarters for the courthouse renovation team. Around the corner, a former bail bonds business will accommodate county planning staff.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NWhaglund.