Consider plans for a new courthouse

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The current courthouse, built in 1961, as well as the vacant 1917 courthouse and a future courthouse will be considered by the Jefferson County Commission at the Sept. 11 meeting.Three courthouses will be on the Jefferson County Commission's Sept. 11 agenda: the now vacant 1917 courthouse on the northwest corner of D and Sixth streets, the current courthouse, and a future courthouse.

During their regular meeting, the commission will consider declaring the old courthouse as surplus property, authorizing its sale.

"It's just falling down; the engineering report on it is not good," said Wayne Fording, chairman of the commission.

The building, which most recently housed the Jefferson County Museum on the top floor, and the OSU Extension Service on the lower floor, was built of unreinforced brick. Concrete interior walls are eroding, and wooden joists seem to be rotting, according to the engineering report.

"Without a lot of money to retrofit it, it's not occupiable," said Fording, indicating that the commission is looking at options, which might include selling the building or tearing it down.

"Maybe someone from the private sector would want to buy it," he said.

County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen said that the building's foundation has been eroding internally for a while. "It’s older construction," he said. "The old courthouse and the current courthouse are not designed to withstand an earthquake."

The meeting will be held in the commission's meeting room in the Jefferson County Courthouse Annex at 66 S.E. D St., at 10 a.m.

New courthouse project

At 1:30 p.m., the commission will hold a work session to discuss plans for a new courthouse project with department heads and elected officials. Under legislation passed in the past year, the state might pay 50 percent of the cost of court facilities, according to Rasmussen.

"It wouldn’t cover space for the district attorney or community justice," he said, noting that the facility would be built on property donated to the county by the city — just west of the new Madras City Hall and Police Station.

The county courthouse, built in 1961, houses the Jefferson County Circuit Court, District Attorney's Office, and the Adult and Juvenile Community Justice departments, and the county's human resources office in 19,400 square feet.

A space needs study, commissioned by the county, determined that the county would need about 70,000 square feet to bring the courthouse up to standards and accommodate the county's growth over the next 20 years.

"That was our original number, but I don't think that's feasible," said Fording. "I'm thinking maybe a smaller footprint and maybe space to add another courtroom; maybe not so many bells and whistles."

While the "pie in the sky plan" for a courthouse would include four courtrooms —instead of the two in the current courthouse — Fording said that they might end up with two courtrooms to accommodate juries, and one smaller, nonjury courtroom.

In 2008, the state commissioned a court facilities assessment that ranked Jefferson County's courthouse at 37th out of 48 courthouses in the state. In 2009, the Jefferson County Courthouse was one of two in the state selected for facilities replacement.

"We're close to the top of the list," said Fording, citing the age of the building, safety and seismic issues, as well as problems with accessability for disabled persons. "There's lots of issues."

The other on the list, the East Multnomah County Justice Center, has already been completed.

In the 2009 assessment, replacement of the courthouse was estimated at $25 million, not including land. The city has offered the county the land just west of the new city hall at no cost.

The focus for work session will be to consider the possibility of building a court-only courthouse with state funding. The county would then need to find office space for the district attorney's office and community justice. The courthouse annex would continue to house the county's administrative functions, including the assessor's, clerk's and treasurer's offices.

"Because of structural defects in the current courthouse, it's not feasible for the county to spend the funds to retrofit it," said Rasmussen.

Privatize kennels?

The commission will consider a proposal for privatization of the county kennels during its regular meeting Oct. 2.

At the County Commission's last meeting in August, commissioners instructed staff to prepare a request for proposal for privatization of the kennel operations, with the sheriff taking on the enforcement side of the process.

The dog control officer recently resigned, Rasmussen said, so the commission decided to review the operation before moving forward with hiring another dog control officer.

"The kennel is an operation that’s staff intensive," he said. "If a private organization that has that as their mission wanted to take it over, they would be better suited to run that. We’ve talked to the Humane Society of the Ochocos, and they’ve indicated some level of interest."

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