Safety for the staff and public is key to Jefferson County's plans for a new county courthouse.

On Jan. 22, the Jefferson County Commission unanimously approved an application for funding from the state's Courthouse Capital Construction Improvement Fund to build a replacement for the current courthouse, built in 1961.

County officials believe that their application will be the first received by the state since the Oregon Legislature passed a bill in 2013 to make certain courthouse projects eligible for up to 50 percent in matching state funds for court space.

Besides the fact that the courthouse is located entirely in the Willow Creek floodway, has structural defects and is seismically unsafe, space constraints have the potential to endanger jurors, witnesses, court personnel, and the public, according to a 2008 study.

Unlike modern courthouses, the 20,000-square-foot courthouse has no weapons screening area, no separate hallways to prevent people from coming into contact with in-custody defendants, no separate elevator for defendants, and no separate restrooms. Attempts to remodel the building (in 1984 and 2002) were unsuccessful in making the building safe structurally.

After the county had been searching for a location for a new courthouse for several years, last April, the city of Madras signed over 1.85 acres at the northwest corner of its property, on E and Third streets, just west of the new Madras City Hall. The city donated the property, but the county helped pay for the entryway and stormwater facilities, which the two buildings will share.

In the proposed 35,000-square-foot courthouse, the county plans to include about 5,000 square feet for the district attorney's office in the plans, even though it is not eligible for partial funding. County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen said that the current plan has the county coming up with 57.1 percent, and the state, 42.9 percent.

The estimated cost for the facility is $12,895,000, with $5,526,550 from the state, and $7,368,732 from the county. For its share of the building, the county would use $2 million in savings and use Full Faith and Credit Obligation Bonds for the remaining $5,368,732, which would keep the county's payment just under $370,000 per year.

The plan must first be approved by the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, Judge Thomas A. Balmer, who visited the courthouse last year.

"The chief justice has indicated that Jefferson County is next," said Rasmussen, noting that the state intends to go out for bonds in March 2015.

Ideally, county officials would like to receive preliminary approval from the Oregon Justice Department in February, and approval from the Legislature in April or May, in order to proceed with design. If approved, the county could begin construction by May or June 2015, and move in by September 2016.

"We're hopeful," said Rasmussen.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine