Snohomish County’s flawed courthouse

There’s renewed talk of rebuilding Snohomish County’s 45-year-old courthouse. It’s old, it’s ugly and, in some eyes, undignified. More to the point, the concrete box of a building might be dangerous. Safety concerns include the lack of separation of the public from in-custody prisoners, asbestos and ability to withstand an earthquake.

Courthouse usage

• 1,500 people pass through security on an average work day.

• 652 trials per year.

Problems identified

• Too small for current operations.

• Not wired for new technology, including video presentation of evidence.

• Multistory concrete facades at risk during an earthquake.

• Presence of asbestos.

• Outdated heating and ventilation.

• Impossible to keep public, staff, judges separated from inmates.

• Difficult access for people with physical disabilities.


A 2008 study explored building a new $163 million justice center, but the idea lacked political support. The proposal assumed a need for twice as much space, with a 10-story addition to the courthouse complex and renovations to existing buildings.

As part of the 2012 budget, the County Council has tasked County Executive Aaron Reardon and Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Downes with taking another look. Their report is due July 1.

Courthouse Building

• Built in 1967

• 116,121 square feet

• 218 workers

Includes main public entrance; 16 courtrooms for Snohomish County Superior Court; Everett District Court offices and three courtrooms; Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office headquarters.

Mission Building

• Built in 1910

• 49,107 square feet

• 112 workers

Replaced an 1897 courthouse at the same site, which had burned. Has two courtrooms for Snohomish County Superior Court; County Clerk’s office; Prosecuting Attorney headquarters. Additions in 1952 and 1964. Renovated in 1980.

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