Mission improbable

Historic building is cheaper to replace than retrofit, city says

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

Everett’s landmark Mission Building, the former seat of county government and one of the last vestiges of Southwest-style architecture in the city, has become a likely target for the wrecking ball.

Officials responsible for an overhaul of Snohomish County’s downtown Everett campus say they are leaning toward replacing the 89-year-old building with a new one after a study showed it would cost more than $7 million to make it safe during a major earthquake.

That’s only part of a hefty $24 million price tag to make all of the county’s major buildings earthquake-proof, according to a recently released report from engineers hired by the county.

The price made tearing down the Mission Building an attractive option because it could save money and make room for a planned office building, said Dale Moses, who is heading the county’s effort to overhaul its campus.

"I think finding space and being able to save serious costs for a building that has limited value, other than historic, just seems to be almost a no-brainer," Moses said.

The prospect of losing a downtown fixture listed on the National Register of Historic Places struck a chord among some people dedicated to local history.

"I think all of us who care about local heritage would be kind of traumatized by it," said David Dilgard, a local historian.

The 1911 building stands on the ashes of the first county courthouse built in Everett. The first building burned down in 1909. Both courthouses were prominent symbols of civic pride among Everett residents, who in 1897 succeeded moving the county seat from Snohomish, Dilgard said.

It was designed in the then-popular Mission Style by August F. Heide, the architect behind the first courthouse.

"In terms of its historic significance, there’s no question it’s of the prime order," Dilgard said.

The building has over the years fallen into disrepair and undergone remodeling and additions that stripped away some of its historic elements, said Larry Van Horn, director of the county’s facilities management department. It now houses several courtrooms, the prosecuting attorney’s criminal division, court clerk offices and storage rooms.

Repairing the aging roof, ventilation system and windows would cost millions of dollars, in addition to the earthquake remodeling costs, Van Horn said. He didn’t have specific estimates of the repair costs.

The site would be a prime location for an office building the county plans to build to save money on office leases and relieve a space crunch, Moses said. That building is expected to be up to 12 stories tall.

It could be cheaper to replace the Mission Building than to repair it, Van Horn said. The new building could also buttress the county administration and courthouse buildings against earthquakes, he said. That could cut the combined $14.5 million cost of an earthquake upgrade for those buildings by as much as half, Van Horn estimated.

"Unless it’s the White House or the state capitol or something that’s got incredible amounts of cultural value, I think there’s a business decision that’s got to be made," Moses said.

The new building may incorporate some parts of the Mission Building, such as the clock tower, Moses said.

The building’s fate won’t be determined until early next year, Moses said. He hoped to come to the county council with a plan early in 2001 to get preliminary approval. He then promised to seek public comment on the proposal.

The county could build new office space elsewhere, including a parking lot across Wall Street from the main campus, or on space north of the current courthouse, Moses said.

Those options all have drawbacks, and wouldn’t produce the savings in earthquake renovations, Moses said.

"It’s almost like every other option requires a lot more money," he said.

The building’s listing on the historic register doesn’t restrict what can be done with it, unless federal dollars are being used in the project, said Kris Ravetz of the Everett Historic Commission.

Still, she expected some people would oppose demolition of the Mission Building. In recent years, several historic Everett buildings have been renovated rather than destroyed, including Everett High School and the Monte Cristo Hotel.

"I think there will be many people that think they will be tearing down a significant building, and the government should be stewards of history," she said.

The county’s plans do call for renovating another historic building, the Carnegie Library. The gray brick building at the corner of Oakes Avenue and Wall Street, which opened in 1905, is also on the historic register. It houses the county’s information services department and is to become the entrance to an enlarged jail and courthouse, Moses said.

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