The front facade of the Snohomish County Courthouse building in Everett, photographed Dec. 2015.

The front facade of the Snohomish County Courthouse building in Everett, photographed Dec. 2015.

Somers: A new courthouse is too expensive; renovate instead

  • By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
  • Friday, May 13, 2016 5:27pm
  • Local News

EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers on Friday said there is no reason to build a new county courthouse to address safety and security concerns.

Somers now recommends renovating the existing 1967 building instead of paying for a new structure.

His staff believes that overhauling the old courthouse would cost less than half the $162 million the county had been planning to spend on a new eight-story justice center, until abandoning the project last summer.

Weighing on Somers’ decision were concerns about county finances in 2017 and beyond. The county simply can’t afford to build and operate the new courthouse that it had been pursuing for much of the past two years, Somers said in a statement.

“We want to make sure we are good stewards of public funds and also ensure our courthouse is more functional and safer,” he said.

Somers, who was on a business trip to China, said he chose to prioritize public service over a new building.

“Not one member of the public was breaking down our doors to build an expensive new structure for our law and justice system,” he said. “Moving forward on a renovation will allow us to focus on other areas important to Snohomish County, in particular the heroin epidemic, economic development, and the county’s financial challenges.”

Somers’ recommendation on the courthouse was reached independently of the proposed 0.2 percent sales-tax increase to support the criminal justice system, which voters will decide on Aug. 2.

It will be up to the County Council to decide what happens next on the courthouse issue.

Somers convened a courthouse committee early this year. The process was outlined as part of the 2016 budget.

Deputy Executive Marcia Isenberg has been leading the effort, which brought together representatives from the courts, the County Council and the city of Everett. The group had been looking at the appropriate courthouse size, location and budget.

Early on, it became apparent that it would be too expensive to build a justice building across the street on property that was acquired by the county through condemnation, Isenberg said.

That meant any new project would have to take shape at or near the current courthouse.

“We kept narrowing it down, largely based on the cost,” she said.

To help facilitate the work, Somers’ office hired on a temporary contract Dave Gossett, who had helped start discussions about revamping the courthouse while serving as a county councilman. Gossett left the council at the end of 2013 because of term limits.

The existing six-story, 116,000-square-foot courthouse stands near the corner of Wall Street and Wetmore Avenue. Major problems include difficulties separating in-custody defendants from others at the courthouse, including crime victims and witnesses, the general public and court staff. Visitors with disabilities face a lack of accessible bathrooms. The building’s elevators are obsolete, break down regularly, and are expensive to fix. Experts have warned that the building’s multistory concrete facades are at risk of falling off during an earthquake.

The remodel option brings the county full circle, to a concept considered and later discarded three years ago.

In late 2012, Somers, then a councilman, voted against a $75 million plan to remodel the old courthouse, reasoning that it wasn’t the best long-term solution. He likened it to “putting a rebuilt engine in an old car.”

A few months later, Somers and other council members decided to pursue a new building, believing that could be accomplished for slightly more money than the remodel.

After John Lovick was appointed county executive in mid-2013, his administration determined that the new justice building would cost substantially more and ideally would be located across the street from the existing county campus. That’s when the council settled on the $162 million plan.

County leaders Lovick issued a press release Sept. 1 announcing he no longer supported building a new downtown courthouse. He blamed Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and the Everett City Council for failing to work with the county to solve parking concerns. were preparing to break ground last summer when the project imploded over budget concerns at the county and disagreements with Everett city officials over parking.

Council Chairman Terry Ryan was never a fan of the courthouse plans approved before he joined the council in 2014. Ryan had hoped for a new, but smaller project. As he sat through the courthouse committee meetings this year, he grew increasingly convinced that remodeling the old building would be the only option that wouldn’t break the budget.

“The county’s finances are in such a precarious position, this may be all we can do,” Ryan said. “We just don’t have extra money. We need to provide a certain level of services.”

Presiding Superior Court Judge Linda Krese remains skeptical that the most pressing safety and security needs at the courthouse can be addressed through renovation.

“Obviously the judges are disappointed because that idea has been studied in the past and we have been told that it wouldn’t make financial sense,” Krese said.

Whatever decision the council makes, the judge said she’s prepared to work with other county leaders to achieve the best outcome for the public and people who use the courthouse every day.

As it eyes a remodel, the county is sticking with architect Heery International, an Altanta-based firm with experience designing courthouses.

“They are very aware of the condition of that building and what would be needed,” Isenberg said.

The county has been collecting about $5.5 million per year in property taxes meant to pay for a new courthouse.

Left undecided is what to do with a half-dozen properties the county acquired to accommodate the footprint of the now-abandoned courthouse proposed for the north side of Wall Street. Though much of that area is a county-owned parking lot, the county formally declared a public necessity to acquire adjacent parcels under threat of condemnation.

The county wound up owning three law offices, a bail bonds business, a legal messenger service and a small private parking lot for roughly $3.6 million altogether.

Attorney Royce Ferguson, who owned one of the condemned law offices, last fall filed a damage claim against the county, a necessary step before suing a government entity in Washington. Ferguson has since dropped part of the claim seeking personal compensation. He still might pursue a class-action suit to refund any property taxes that were supposed to pay for courthouse construction if the money gets used for other purposes.

County leaders on Friday said they expect to resolve any parking concerns with the city of Everett before embarking on the courthouse renovation.

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

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Logo for news use featuring the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Everett teacher died after driving off Tulalip road

Deborah Wade “saw the world and found beauty in people,” according to her obituary. She was 56.

Snohomish City Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish may sell off old City Hall, water treatment plant, more

That’s because, as soon as 2027, Snohomish City Hall and the police and public works departments could move to a brand-new campus.

Lewis the cat weaves his way through a row of participants during Kitten Yoga at the Everett Animal Shelter on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Downward cat? At kitten yoga in Everett, it’s all paw-sitive vibes

It wasn’t a stretch for furry felines to distract participants. Some cats left with new families — including a reporter.

FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017, file photo, Boeing employees walk the new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner down towards the delivery ramp area at the company's facility in South Carolina after conducting its first test flight at Charleston International Airport in North Charleston, S.C. Federal safety officials aren't ready to give back authority for approving new planes to Boeing when it comes to the large 787 jet, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. The plane has been plagued by production flaws for more than a year.(AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)
Boeing pushes back on Everett whistleblower’s allegations

Two Boeing engineering executives on Monday described in detail how panels are fitted together, particularly on the 787 Dreamliner.

Ferry workers wait for cars to start loading onto the M/V Kitsap on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Struggling state ferry system finds its way into WA governor’s race

Bob Ferguson backs new diesel ferries if it means getting boats sooner. Dave Reichert said he took the idea from Republicans.

Traffic camera footage shows a crash on northbound I-5 near Arlington that closed all lanes of the highway Monday afternoon. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Woman dies almost 2 weeks after wrong-way I-5 crash near Arlington

On April 1, Jason Lee was driving south on northbound I-5 near the Stillaguamish River bridge when he crashed into a car. Sharon Heeringa later died.

Owner Fatou Dibba prepares food at the African Heritage Restaurant on Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Oxtail stew and fufu: Heritage African Restaurant in Everett dishes it up

“Most of the people who walk in through the door don’t know our food,” said Fatou Dibba, co-owner of the new restaurant at Hewitt and Broadway.

A pig and her piglets munch on some leftover food from the Darrington School District’s cafeteria at the Guerzan homestead on Friday, March 15, 2024, in Darrington, Washington. Eileen Guerzan, a special education teacher with the district, frequently brings home food scraps from the cafeteria to feed to her pigs, chickens and goats. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘A slopportunity’: Darrington school calls in pigs to reduce food waste

Washingtonians waste over 1 million tons of food every year. Darrington found a win-win way to divert scraps from landfills.

Foamy brown water, emanating a smell similar to sewage, runs along the property line of Lisa Jansson’s home after spilling off from the DTG Enterprises property on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. Jansson said the water in the small stream had been flowing clean and clear only a few weeks earlier. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Neighbors of Maltby recycling facility assert polluted runoff, noise

For years, the DTG facility has operated without proper permits. Residents feel a heavy burden as “watchdogs” holding the company accountable.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.