$175 million later …

EVERETT – Carlee Aronica slathered guacamole on a kaiser roll and maneuvered a chicken breast onto a bed of tomato and lettuce, all while watching out of the corner of her eye as the makings for a “Mr. Moore’s sandwich” heated up on a nearby panini grill.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

A skybridge connects the new county administration building and the old one on the Snohomish County government campus in downtown Everett. The new Plaza Cafe is visible in the background.

Brie cheese melted over a heap of roast beef.

With an enthusiastic “Poi-fect!,” Aronica handed the now-finished “California Kaiser” to a customer across the counter at the Plaza Cafe.

It’s just after noon and from her side of the cafe counter, Aronica has seen a cross-section of people pass through the county government campus. Judges and jurors, county employees, people popping in on their way to get a marriage license.

The cafe is a symbol of a reborn county campus. And the crowd on campus is expected to grow dramatically Friday when the public is invited for its first peek at Snohomish County’s future.

County leaders are hosting a grand opening to celebrate the completion of the new county government campus in downtown Everett, the biggest public works project in the county’s history.

The all-day event includes tours, performances by the Everett Symphony, historical displays and an art show.

The county is eager to mark the end of the campus project. Late last month, the County Council agreed to sell up to $12 million in bonds to help cover the project’s rising cost.

The current price tag of $175 million includes a new, expanded jail, an underground parking garage, a new nine-floor administration building, the cafe and public plaza. The existing jail will also be remodeled, along with the old administration building and the historic Mission Building.

Facing cramped county offices, talk began more than five years ago about getting extra offices and expanding the county jail to solve its chronic overcrowding problem.

But when county officials began looking at shifting almost 1,000 county workers out of Everett and into two buildings at Paine Field owned by Boeing, downtown leaders and merchants organized.

They formed a group called Save Our County Seat, and convinced the council that Snohomish County government should stay put.

There have been a few surprises along the way, however.

Construction crews had to remove 129,492 tons of contaminated soil that was discovered when digging began for the parking garage. And workers unexpectedly tapped underground springs during the construction project, leading to costly fixes to dry out the soggy site.

Those two problems – along with moving utilities and other unexpected changes – pushed the project’s budget from $170 million to $175 million.

Work on much of the campus project has been finished for a few months or more now.

The 1,200-stall underground garage was finished in February 2004. The new administration building was finished in March, and workers finished the move to their new digs last month. Construction of the new jail also wrapped up in March.

“It’s really just finishing touches on some areas,” said Larry Van Horn, the county’s facilities management director.

Beyond the new jail and its glass cocoon, and the new administration building nearby, the most remarkable change for many to the county campus has been the new Plaza Cafe. A sophisticated rarity in institutional eateries, it opened May 2.

“It’s unique in the state, there’s not another facility like it,” said cafe owner Ron Moore. “Most of the state cafeterias, they have that state look to ‘em. This is very upscale.”

Moore won the bid to operate the cafe through a state program that gives blind vendors preference in operating food vending businesses on public properties.

“It was like winning the Lotto,” Moore said.

The cafe is a fishbowl of sorts; surrounded by windows with a chest-high dining counter that runs along the north side. Bill Gillespie, an attorney’s assistant, watched passers-by cross the plaza below as he took bites from a Reuben sandwich.

“It gives us a great view,” he said. “I was just noticing all the beautiful new buildings here in the city. This is really kind of a neat place to be.”

Jackie Cooper, a county employee in the planning department, said the cafe was a big improvement over the muffin-and-coffee cart that once graced the foyer of the old administration building.

“It’s 300 percent better,” Cooper said. “We’ve needed this for years.”

Moore’s menu of specialty sandwiches and deli fare, along with breakfast and lunch specials, are drawing crowds.

And on jury selection days, when 300 or so people are called down to the county courthouse, it’s even busier, said Aronica, one of the cafe’s sandwich makers and baristas.

“It gets insane in here,” she said.

Praise for the county campus runs from the plaza to the top floor of the new administration building.

“It’s almost like a new spirit in the courthouse here,” said County Councilman Kirke Sievers.

“This is kind of a community center for Everett and the county with the campus we have here,” Sievers said. “We really have a showcase.”

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or kelly@heraldnet.com.

Open house celebration

Friday – County campus, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett

Noon: Dedication in the plaza amphitheater. Performance by Seattle Fireman’s Pipe and Drum Corps

1 p.m.: Mariner High School Jazz Band

2 p.m.: Bethany’s Flat Foot Floozies and Red Hatters

3 p.m.: Arlington High Jazzmine

4 p.m.: Roderick Harris, American Indian flute player

4:30 p.m.: The Seattle Children’s Chorus

6 p.m.: The Everett Symphony

11 a.m. – 5 p.m.: Public tours of jail expansion, new administration building and parts of renovated courthouse

Daylong events: Art show in the public meeting room of the new administration building. Historical displays of logging, mining, railroads and more. Taste of Everett food booths by local restaurants, in the upper plaza.

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