EVERETT — A demolition crew tore down two buildings on Rockefeller Avenue on Wednesday, presaging a major overhaul of the Snohomish County courthouse that’s set to start this summer.
By week’s end, crews should be finished removing the low-rise structures that used to house a law firm and a legal messenger service. In a few months, expect to see construction crews occupying the empty lots as a staging area as they take on $72 million in renovations at the county courthouse up the street.
“In August, we plan on a groundbreaking and I hope to see many of you there,” County Executive Dave Somers told hundreds of business and political leaders who assembled Wednesday for his annual county update speech.
The start date for major construction has been pushed back from earlier timelines, but is still projected to wrap up in early 2021. Designs show a new five-story wing with a new elevator shaft and a security-screening area.
The work also includes interior upgrades to the existing courthouse.
County leaders for well over a decade have discussed ways to fix a raft of problems in the 1967-vintage justice building. The remodel is intended to provide better security and safety; upgrade heating and ventilation systems; and install new bathrooms that are accessible for people with disabilities.
Early on during construction, the most visible changes will involve removing the veterans memorial and flag pavilion in the plaza to the north of the courthouse, where the new wing is to be built. The plan is to return the memorial, including an eternal flame, to an upgraded space near the ballot drop box and amphitheater to the east, said Ken Klein, an executive director in Somers’ office. There’s a raised concrete landscaping bed with grass there now.
Josh Dugan, a county planning manager and Navy veteran, has been working with local veterans on those plans.
The pair of buildings getting demolished are among six land parcels the county acquired through eminent domain in 2014. At the time, the previous county executive administration of John Lovick was pursuing a $162 million project to build an all-new eight-story courthouse to replace the old one across the street.
A majority of the County Council, who at the time included Somers, pulled the plug on the new courthouse in 2015, a week before a scheduled groundbreaking. They cited worries over costs and parking.
After Somers became executive the following year, he recommended overhauling the old courthouse, at about half the cost.
Before changing course, the county spent about $12 million on the abandoned plans, including $3.6 million on eminent domain.
Some of the five eminent domain buildings — the county also bought a small private parking lot — later fell into blight. The county plans to keep three of the buildings as office space for its employees.
The courthouse remodel would add about 29,000 square feet, expanding its current size by about 25 percent.