In line for state funding assistance

by: HOLLY M. GILL - From front left, County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen and commissioners John Hatfield and Mike Ahern, District Attorney Steve Leriche and Chairman Wayne Fording, discuss the conceptual plans for a new, three-story courthouse at a public meeting Nov. 13.The design team planning the layout for a new Jefferson County Courthouse showed their preliminary plans to the public Nov. 13, at a special evening meeting of the Jefferson County Commission.

Representatives of HSR Master Planning and Architecture Inc., of Bend, displayed the conceptual plan for a three-story, 35,000-square-foot courthouse, which will be built on E Street, next to the new Madras City Hall and Police Station.

by: ILLUSTRATION BY HSR MASTER PLANNING AND ARCHITECTURE - A preliminary layout for a new courthouse would have high public input areas on the ground floor of the proposed three-story building.Although the county has been planning and saving for a courthouse for the past few years, their efforts got a boost during the 2013 legislative session, when the Oregon Legislature passed a bill to make certain courthouse projects eligible for up to 50 percent in matching state funds for court space.

Because of structural deficiencies in the courthouse that would make it unsafe in the event of a seismic event, Jefferson County sits atop the list of courthouses in the state that need to be replaced.

"Our goal is still to be first," said County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen, noting that the money could be allocated in the next legislative session, and the county expects to be prepared to submit its plans.

Cost of the facility is estimated at $12.5 million, and the county wants to keep its annual payment at about $375,000.

"We want this to be something we all have input on," said Commissioner Mike Ahern.

Circuit Court Judge Dan Ahern said that he sees this as a good opportunity if the county moves fast. "Counties are very excited that the state is finally putting some money on the table," he said.

Oregon Chief Justice Thomas Balmer, who will select the next county for funding, visited Jefferson County and toured the courthouse in October, according to Amy Bonkosky, trial court administrator.

"I think he's just waiting to see the application," she said. "The planning Jefferson County has put into this is far ahead of other counties, so we're in a good position going forward.

Bill Valdez, of the DLR Group, an architectural and engineering group based in Seattle, said the planners are focusing on access to the building and circulation systems for the public, staff and inmates.

The county has asked to have space for the District Attorney's Office on the lower floor, even though that space would not be eligible for reimbursement.

Valdez pointed out that high public input areas, such as the DA's office and victim advocate area, are on the lower floor, while two courtrooms and four meeting areas will be located on each of the two upper floors.

Over the past few years, the County Commission has scaled back plans for the new county courthouse from 80,000 square feet to the estimated 35,000 square feet. The current courthouse is about 21,000 square feet.

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