Snohomish County offers cautionary lessons on how not to plan for a new courthouse. King County, which is studying its own options, better take heed.
OVER time, public facilities, like politicians, begin to diminish or swell.
As King County studies a costly upgrade or replacement of its century-old courthouse, officials should consider Snohomish County’s cautionary lessons on the perils of ego, capital projects and political turf.
Lesson One: The process does not need to be complicated.
The Snohomish County Courthouse’s main building, a 1967 brutalist eyesore, has the wear and feel of a Soviet-era infirmary. For nearly two decades, county planners have discussed how to manage a crumbling facility and balance design flaws, including elevators and entryways shared by defendants and jurors.
The initial plan, conceived during the administration of former County Executive Aaron Reardon, involved a massive rebuild and expansion. Reardon, who managed to secure Tel Aviv-style bulletproof glass for his own office, never saw the project through.
The new county executive, John Lovick, revived the courthouse effort, advancing a plan supported by a majority of the County Council that more than doubled the original budget of $75 million to $162 million. This new building, with its expanded design, would sit on a former commercial parking lot and adjoining properties across the street. As The (Everett) Herald reported, the county already has sunk $12 million into planning and purchasing condemned property.
Lesson Two: Don’t get carried away.
Lovick and Deputy County Executive Mark Ericks wanted to ensure that the county’s 14 Superior Court judges were happy. The judges didn’t want to relocate temporarily during a teardown. They also insisted on individual courtrooms, even though court schedules never demand it.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe and Sheriff Ty Trenary, both just mild about the proposal, wisely have been more concerned about preserving services in an uncertain budget climate.
Lesson Three: Indecision can be pricey.
The Herald notes that demolition bids are now out of date, rising interest rates may curtail a future bond’s purchasing power, and even construction cranes are booked up and unavailable.
Earlier this month, Lovick conceded defeat, but not before castigating Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and the city over parking requirements. Lovick also threatened to move the courthouse to another town, a delightfully unrealistic warning since the existing jail and other services need to be close by.
So, county officials are practicing damage control. The $75 million in public bonds already approved by the council should finance significant upgrades to the existing courthouse.
The $4 million in property taxes to fulfill the $162-million plan must be suspended.
This is what delay, ego and poor communication will get you. Take heed, King County.