Construction plans for new Clackamas County Courthouse moving forward
The city of Portland in 2016 released an interactive map that detailed all of the buildings within the city that would be at risk of collapsing if an earthquake hit. The map shows that over 1,500 "historically significant" buildings in the Portland area are in danger of crumbling in a seismic event. That number, of course, does not include the more than fifty cities that are within the surrounding Portland metropolitan area.
One of the cities with seismically unsafe buildings is Oregon City. More specifically, the Clackamas County Courthouse is in danger of collapsing directly into the Willamette River upon an earthquake event. This is a problem that is recognized by county officials and state representatives alike.
On June 30th, House Bill 5005, which included funding for the new courthouse, passed through the legislature. The bill allocates $31.5 million towards the courthouse reconstruction project. The new courthouse reconstruction project will in total cost $220 million. The updated courthouse will be located approximately two and a half miles southeast of its current location at Red Soils Business Park.
When speaking with Clackamas County Public and Government Affairs Interim Director Tim Heider about the replacement project, he emphasized that the building is simply "not built for modern needs."
What Heider means by this is that the sheer size of the courthouse is so miniscule that defendants, judges, prosecutors and the public often have to walk right by each other, causing a number of security concerns.
Presiding 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."
Part of the reason that the number of cases are increasing so rapidly and making meeting disposition dates so challenging is because of the growing population of the county. Clackamas County has added nearly 40,000 residents over the course of the last decade, according to the county's website. For a county with a little more than 400,000 residents, that makes meeting judicial needs challenging for Steele and other judges. Steele added that for the county's population, it is in need of at least 14 judges. Currently, the existing courthouse can hold a maximum of 11 judges.
It's not just a matter of space requirements or earthquake preparedness — the project is thought to be economically viable as well. Courthouse Project Manager Gary Barth said that he believes "[The courthouse] will be an economic stimulus to the community." Both Barth and Heider detailed that the soon to be vacant courthouse will become what they referred to as "surplus property" to the community of downtown Oregon City. Surplus property is essentially any type of infrastructure that is being held by a government entity, but can be potentially sold off.
Barth and Heider both said that this is a four-year process, with 18 months dedicated to designing and 31 months to build. The state needs to give Barth the go-ahead to start pre-construction, and that will happen once the Oregon Courthouse Capital Construction and Improvement Fund (OCCCIF), which has contributed a significant portion of the funding needed for the project, has a courthouse construction project prioritized in front of Clackamas County's. Once the Oregon courthouse that's prioritized one-ahead of Clackamas' is underway and built, Barth will get the green light to begin preconstruction.
To find out more about the courthouse reconstruction project, you can visit Clackamas County's website directly at https://www.clackamas.us/courthouse.