‘No quick decision’ on Snohomish County courthouse

EVERETT — A decision on Snohomish County’s courthouse project is looking increasingly unlikely this year.

A delay would push any commitment past the Nov. 3 election for county executive and work drafting next year’s county budget.

In the meantime, county staff could study less-expensive alternatives that would come in far less than the $162 million plan that fell apart over the summer.

“We need more information before we can make a decision,” County Councilman Terry Ryan said Monday. “We’re going into budget right now, so I don’t think this is going to be a quick decision.”

Planning for the courthouse project has followed a circuitous path since late 2012, when a majority of the County Council committed to a $65 million project to remodel the existing 1967 courthouse and add a new three-story wing. Council members the following year decided instead to replace the old courthouse with a brand-new building, believing it wouldn’t cost that much more. By the end of the year, they had raised taxes to build an eight-story that cost more than twice as much. Since then, the county has bought out a half-dozen properties around the proposed site north of Wall Street, facing the county’s administrative complex in downtown Everett.

Plans had been advancing on that project until an August ground-breaking was canceled.

Some county council members have suggested reviving the original remodeling plan as a way to trim expenses by as much as $50 million.

Councilman Brian Sullivan isn’t among them.

“What they’re talking about as a less expensive building is a really expensive Band-Aid,” Sullivan said. “In the long-term, it will not meet the needs of the courts or a growing population.”

At least a few judges also oppose the remodeling plan for many of the same reasons.

Add to the list of skeptics Dave Gossett, who as a County Councilman in 2012 pushed to remodel the courthouse and build a new wing. Gossett, who left office after 2013 because of term limits, wrote to council members last week to urge them to build a new courthouse on the plaza immediately north of the existing building. That plan was passed over when a majority of the council decided to build across the street, with Gossett and then-Councilman John Koster opposed.

“Remodeling the existing courthouse will never adequately solve the issues of public safety and service that the current building has,” Gossett wrote. “… In the end, when the current courthouse is torn down in (the) future, it will be totally wasted. Enough has already been wasted by the mistaken decision to build on the site across the street.”

County Executive John Lovick has blamed Everett city leaders for sinking the $162 million project over parking concerns. Lovick has suggested suspending courthouse plans, possibly for years, and to stop collecting taxes levied for courthouse construction.

Council Chairman Dave Somers, who is challenging Lovick for the executive’s job Nov. 3, supports giving the remodeling idea further thought. Somers voted against a similar plan in 2012.

A majority of the council last week voted to freeze the courthouse budget until they figure out what to do. The discussion is likely to continue at the council next meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday or next week.

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

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