Benton County’s timeline to begin construction on its new courthouse and district attorney’s office hasn’t gone to plan, commissioners learned this week.
Located in the county’s new safety and justice campus, the new facilities have also gone significantly over budget.
“Now that the county’s bond sale is complete and the legislative session has adjourned, we have a clear picture of our resources and the budget for this project,” Rick Crager, the county’s chief financial officer, said at the July 5 county commissioners meeting. “We will need to continue discussions with the Oregon Justice Department staff to bring the design into alignment with required standards and the funds available.”
In March, the estimated cost was $50 million for a 35,682-square-foot courthouse. The state operates the courthouse and half of the cost would be funded through an Oregon Justice Department matching grant with the other half funded through county borrowing.
Oregon Justice Department representatives requested a design with 37,500 square feet, which is the programmatic square footage initially developed, increasing costs by an estimated $4.5 million.
As for the county-operated district attorney’s office, a 9,000-square-foot building was originally planned with funding coming from the county borrowing $8 million. County officials said that to meet budget requirements, the office design was reduced to 8,000 square feet.
County staff recommended proceeding with the project and continuing negotiations with OJD representatives to reduce the square footage for the courts and bring costs in alignment with available funds, an option supported by commissioners.
With the decision, total direct construction costs would be managed to meet the original $50 million project estimate, but the construction timeline will shift to a start date sometime next spring, the county reported.
The current Benton County Courthouse, built in 1888, is the oldest courthouse in Oregon currently being used for its original and intended purpose. Though structurally sound, the 27,000-square-foot building would not withstand a major earthquake, the county said.
Gary Stockhoff, public works director and project manager for the county, stressed the importance of moving forward with the new courthouse.
“Our financial planning for this project is sound and we have been very thoughtful about contingency funding with input from OTAK, our contracted project manager,” he said. “Continuing on this path will provide $31.2 million of state resources for a new courthouse which would not be available if we chose to renovate an existing facility.”
Stockhoff added the county remains committed to working closely with OJD staff to build a new courthouse with modern amenities that would include “ADA-compliance, security features and separate circulation paths for the public, staff and in-custody defendants, as well as a jury assembly area.”