Meeting set to review county courthouse renovation plan

EVERETT — Snohomish County is looking to breathe new life into downtown commercial buildings it acquired to make way for a new courthouse, before construction plans fell apart two years ago.

Meanwhile, plans to renovate the the county’s existing courthouse are about to start review by the city of Everett, with a key meeting Tuesday.

“We’re moving forward and working to stay on schedule and keep on budget,” said Ken Klein, an executive director with the county.

Construction is slated to start in April on a five-story courthouse addition. The new wing would house modern elevators, fully accessible bathrooms and a public entryway that’s both safer and more welcoming than the current setup.

The project is expected to last through mid-2020. Once work starts, the county plans to move a veterans memorial on the courthouse plaza to a nearby spot. Heating and air-conditioning upgrades are taking place already.

The improvements are part of a $72 million renovation package the County Council approved in March on a 3-2 vote. Councilmembers Brian Sullivan and Stephanie Wright have questioned whether the renovation is a good long-term investment.

The current courthouse rises five stories at the corner of Wall Street and Wetmore Avenue in downtown Everett. It was built in 1967 and connects to the historic Mission building. The building is plagued with maintenance and efficiency problems, unreliable elevators and bathrooms that many disabled people can’t use.

Two years ago, the county was well on its way toward building a new eight-story-courthouse about a block east on the other side of Wall Street. That project carried a price tag of $162 million.

Plans for the new building were shelved in the summer of 2015, just a week before a ground-breaking was to have taken place. A majority of the County Council cited financial and parking problems in deciding to pull the plug.

To make way for the new courthouse footprint, the county had used eminent domain to acquire a small parking lot and five commercial buildings. It cost taxpayers $3.6 million to buy those properties.

Law practices, a bail bonds business and a legal messenger service were forced to leave the prime locations within a block of the courthouse and the jail. Except for the parking lot, the properties have been sitting idle.

“We’re working on some plans to renovate a couple of them,” Klein said of the buildings. “A couple of them will need to be taken down.”

Earlier, there had been speculation that the county might resell the properties — possibly back to their former owners. That now appears unlikely.

The reconfigured buildings could take some pressure off crowded sectors of county government.

“We’re bursting at the seams when it comes to the planning department and district court,” Klein said.

The courthouse overhaul across the street is a separate process. For it to move ahead, the county still needs key approvals from Everett.

Everett’s planning commission has scheduled a courthouse workshop in City Council chambers at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting will give people a chance to see drawings and designs, but no vote is expected. A hearing and possible vote is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 3, Everett planning director Allan Giffen said.

Commissioners need to decide whether to allow an amendment to a 2002 master plan that dictates what the county can do with its government campus, located between Pacific Avenue and Wall Street. The area includes the county’s two main administrative buildings, a parking garage, the jail and the courthouse.

The City Council also must agree to the master-plan amendment before it can move forward.

The renovation is being paid for with $75 million in bonds the county sold in 2013. The county raised property taxes to pay for the bonds.

The courthouse remodel would add about 29,000 square feet, expanding the courthouse about 25 percent from its current size. Officials hope the upgrades will extend the life of the building by 50 years, though some upgrades would be necessary during that time.

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

Workshop

The Everett Planning Commission is hosting a workshop Tuesday about plans for a major renovation of the Snohomish County courthouse.

It’s scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave., Everett.

People are welcome to comment on proposed changes to a city-county agreement about developing the county’s government complex in downtown Everett. A decision is expected at a future meeting.

More info: https://everettwa.gov/1756/Snohomish-County-Courthouse-Addition

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