Upcoming project: Clackamas County Courthouse
While the Multnomah County Courthouse's construction at the Morrison Bridgehead downtown might be the most conspicuous, it's not the only new courthouse the Portland metro area is receiving with the help of the state matching funding.
The funding is nearly clinched for the new Clackamas County Courthouse project, to be developed on Oregon City's Red Soils campus.
The courthouse's plans include a 215,000 square foot, five-floor facility with a secure basement, 16 courtrooms and 20 judicial chambers along with office space for court administration, the county District Attorney's office, the Sheriff's Office civil division and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Clackamas County's original courthouse, still in use today after numerous expansions, was built in 1936 in the heart of downtown Oregon City. However, that location is in the liquefaction zone — meaning the solid ground would act like a liquid — in the event of an earthquake and wouldn't be sound. Officials have also said the county's need has overgrown the courthouse's current abilities.
Gary Barth is the project manager of the Clackamas County Courthouse development, and is the director of the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District and Clackamas County Parks. Before that, he was most recently the director of Business and Community Services for Clackamas County and formerly served on the county's Economic Development Commission. Barth spoke with the Business Tribune about how the funding and timeline are coming along with Clackamas County's master plans for the Red Soils Campus.
"(The courthouse) is going to be significantly larger and it's definitely going to be safer," Barth said. "Right now where everything has had to be retrofitted, you have jurors, defendants, plaintiffs, judges and attorneys all comingling and coming together in common areas of the building, which can cause any number of problems and challenges."
The new courthouse will be designed for modern needs and compartmentalize various areas and functions.
"It will be more efficient, have better flow and have security concentrated how it needs to be and not just be pervasive throughout the whole building," Barth said. "It will provide a safer environment and much-needed capacity: those are the two biggest issues of the demands of today in a much more efficient and secure fashion. Hopefully, it will lower operating costs per incident, per trial, per capita, however you want to measure the efficiencies of the court."
Clackamas County's need
Clackamas County contributes a fairly significant portion of the GDP of the Portland metro region, especially as the greater area has grown.
"I have quite a bit of familiarity with jobs, population, and ... we've seen fairly comparable growth to what the region has seen: Clackamas County contributes about 12-14 percent of the region's economy, and that's holding firm," Barth said. "We still have challenges like everybody about where jobs get created versus where people want to live and raise families. It's not always correlated in the metro region: you work where you can get the maximum economic value, and live where it meets the quality of life of the occupants for schools and other things."
With the population growth, Clackamas County also feels the congestion effects on its traffic — and its judicial system.
"We've had the need and the state support to have three more judges and courts, and we've already expanded from a one-courtroom courthouse when it was built in 1936 up to 11 (courtrooms) today just by moving people out, retrofitting and jamming every nook and cranny — and we're still undersize for the population," Barth said. "We're not able to adjudicate cases as timely as we would like. A lot of that is population driven — a single courthouse met the needs in the 1930s, but it certainly doesn't meet the needs of a 400,000-population county today. This new courthouse will give us the ability to size it to current needs and also provide capacity for the future."
"A discussion about replacing the existing courthouse began in the '60s and was just never able to get any viable funding strategy," Barth said. "Now the state is saying we as a state are willing to fund half the costs — now you have something we can put a package together with, and with our local match we think we will be much more open to support the public, and I think that is a huge success."
In July 2017, the Oregon Legislature provided Clackamas County with $1.2 million for planning costs associated with the project. Through the Oregon Courthouse Capital Construction and Improvement Fund (OCCCIF) initially created in 2013, the state can provide matching funds toward the replacement of county courthouses — Jefferson, Tillamook and Lane counties were the first in the queue, and Multnomah County's is currently under construction in downtown Portland. Under this fund, the state would be able to provide 50 percent of the funds to cover the estimated project cost of $154 million Clackamas County courthouse.
"We're right in the tier there in the bond request funding schedule, we're earmarked for distribution of funds in the 2021 bienium and again in the 2023 biennium," Barth said. "It's broken up in two pieces because we have $1.2 million now for pre-planning purposes to get things underway, and the next request will really be for the design and development work and site work and prep, and then the final distribution in 2023 will be for the courthouse construction."
In addition to the Legislature's continued involvement in this process, the project also includes participation from the courts, the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Association of Oregon Counties' (AOC) Court Facilities Task Force, the city of Oregon City, and additional key stakeholders.
Barth said the challenges of this project include security and complications with all the players involved.
"We have the board of Clackamas County, the elected body of Clackamas County who will be a lead on securing finance and funding, and we also have other elected bodied that are very critical partners in this project — the district attorney's office, judges, the sheriff's office," Barsh said. "With the state involved we've got all three branches: the legislative to set aside funding, the judicial department who prioritize and push the request through, and then the department of human services is going to be an occupant of the new building as a tenant."
Master planning the courthouse
Back in 1998, Clackamas County selected the Red Soils Campus to be the location for consolidation county operations. SERA Architects is the designer of Clackamas County's master plan for the Red Soils Campus, and back in 2014 created a sketch of the courthouse to give an estimate of the project very early on so the funding process could move forward.
"We will be doing an RFP. SERA is under contract as they've been under construction with our facilities folks for the master planning," Barth said. "(SERA) is currently assisting on the project to get it finalized — we got one adopted master plan with the city of Oregon City today, so now we're looking to see if that is still relevant the way it's laid out today, or does it need tweaking?"
"We're really looking to get contractor procurement in the later part of 2019, but want to get design and engineering procurement done in the early part of 2019," Barth said. "2018 is really getting the financing plan laid out, the budget forecast done, the request for state funding lined out, and then 2019 is going to be a very busy year for getting the (contracts).
The first new county building in the Red Soils master plan was a public services building, which included county commission and county council space, internal staff functions and offices. The second complementary building is for development services, and houses the departments of transportation and development, tourism, business and community services, and water and environmental services.
"The plan is after those two were built, in the triangle of that facing dead on to Mount Hood to the east, was the potential site for the new county courthouse — that's always been the idea," Barth said.
The location of the current courthouse in downtown Oregon City is the historical area for Clackamas County's administration, but the housing and transportation departments among others were all flooded out in Great Flood of 1996. When the county started the move to Red Soils, the jail was the first facility to be relocated up the hill.
Groundbreaking is currently slated for spring 2023.