Clackamas County submits $189M courthouse construction plan
A report detailing Clackamas County's unique proposal for continuing development on a new courthouse was submitted this week to the Oregon Judicial Department for final review before it is presented to the Oregon Legislature in January 2022.
OJD and county staff jointly drafted the report at the state's request, intending to clarify a proposed method for operating and maintaining a courthouse intended to serve a county population that has grown over eight times since the current facility was built.
The Board of County Commissioners on May 5 voted 4-1, with Commissioner Paul Savas dissenting, to pursue a Public-Private Partnership (P3) approach in which developers would assume much of the courthouse project's risk and become responsible for the building's design, financing, operation and maintenance through the 30-year life of the contract. The new courthouse would be Oregon's first to utilize this approach, if approved.
Oregon legislators on Jun. 26 tentatively approved $94.5 million in matching funds for the courthouse's design and construction, estimated to cost approximately $189 million, per the report. Of the approved funds, lawmakers committed $1 to keep the project on House Budget 5006 until they are satisfied with project organizers' explanation of the P3 approach.
As previously reported, the current three-story (and full basement) courthouse on Main Street in downtown Oregon City was completed in 1937 and expanded in 1959. Originally designed to serve fewer than 50,000 residents, county officials say the building can "no longer handle" the current population over 420,000.
According to Gary Barth, the county's project manager, the new courthouse, at 215,000 square feet, would be approximately two-and-a-half times as large as the current building. The county's new building would include 16 courtrooms, 20 judicial chambers and space for the district attorney's office.
Organizers estimate a $420 million total cost to keep the new courthouse running over the 30-year agreement, yet as the joint report clarifies, a P3 approach does not require the county to begin making payments on the new building until it's completed in 2025, giving time to lay the foundation for how the county would finance those payments moving forward.
Attorneys for the state and county concur that the approach "meets constitutional and statutory requirements" and that the final funding agreement, which is expected to be signed by January 2022, will require the county to own the project and cover its agreed-upon financial contribution.
Barth said staff from the state's Legislative Fiscal Office recently joined the project team and OJD staff for a tour of the current courthouse and reacted positively to the report draft during a group review session.
The report will be finalized by OJD staff and presented to legislators on Jan. 13, 2022, Barth told commissioners on Dec. 7, adding that the team anticipates approval of the remaining funding by March 7, 2022, at the end of next year's shortened Legislative Session.
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