With state officials this summer allocating $31.9 million toward the courthouse replacement project, Clackamas County officials are answering questions from the public about the project's $230 million budget and a county building that will be razed to make way for the courthouse.
Clackamas County's courthouse is projected to cost 70% of Multnomah County's courthouse, even though the Clackamas building will be about half the size of Multnomah's. Mental health services currently located at 998 Library Court in Oregon City will be displaced by Clackamas County's plans for surface parking next to the courthouse.
County spokesman Tim Heider said the nearly 250,000-square-foot Clackamas courthouse plan is facing rapidly rising construction costs and will have to be on a larger footprint than Multnomah County's courthouse. The Clackamas building requires more site work, since Oregon City limits buildings to five stories, whereas Multnomah is building a 22-story, approximately 500,000-square-foot courthouse.
"Our projected site-work costs alone are $16 million," Heider said. "Also the Multnomah County total reflects 2017 costs. Our early 2017 cost estimate was updated in April 2019 and increased 25% during that time. Finally, our cost includes a contingency allowance in an effort to be conservative on our total estimate."
As for the county's mental health services, its unclear where the Hilltop Behavioral Health Center and Stewart Community Center will go if the county continued with its plans to raze the building to make way for courthouse parking. Heider said that current courthouse plans do not include housing any mental health services.
"Planning is underway to assure that any decisions made regarding county facilities and the courthouse project are thoughtfully considered and ensure that potential service impacts are minimal," Heider said. "The county intends to replace the existing county courthouse in downtown Oregon City with a larger, more functional, seismically safe and modern facility on the Red Soils campus, and it has been known for years that doing this may require the relocation of some existing county facilities."
State legislators passed House Bill 5005 on June 30 because the Clackamas County existing courthouse structure is running out of space to serve a growing population and is in danger of collapsing during an earthquake.
Heider emphasized that the courthouse is simply "not built for modern needs." The courthouse is so small that defendants, judges, prosecutors and the public often have to walk past one another, causing security concerns.
Judge Kathie F. Steele highlighted the fact that certain cases are prioritized over others because the current building doesn't have the capacity to serve all the cases that are coming through. "Part of the effect of not having enough judges is that we have to bump other cases, because certain cases have priority by law," Steele said. "Domestic, civil matters get set over. … We are having a hard time meeting our disposition dates."
As Clackamas County's population grows, the number of court cases is rapidly increasing, making it difficult to hold hearings in a timely manner. The county has added nearly 40,000 residents over the past decade, according to the county's website.
With a little over 400,000 total county residents, that makes meeting judicial needs challenging. Steele said at least 14 judges are needed to serve the county's population. The existing courthouse can accommodate a maximum of 11 judges.
The new courthouse will not only resolve space requirements and earthquake concerns. Courthouse Project Manager Gary Barth said the courthouse will be an economic stimulus to the community.
The courthouse project will take four years, with 18 months dedicated to design and 31 months for construction. Barth is awaiting the state's go-ahead to start the pre-construction phase of the project.
Once vacant, the former courthouse building will become "surplus property" in downtown Oregon City so it can be sold. To find out more about the courthouse replacement project, visit clackamas.us/courthouse.
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