If the measure passes, a new courthouse would be built to serve Thurston County for a planned 75-100 years.
Why consider a new Courthouse?
The existing Courthouse Complex, consisting of buildings 1, 2 and 3, was constructed in 1978. Since 1980, the population has increased by more than 100,000 people
. As a result, county services have outgrown the current Courthouse buildings. There is not enough space for the courts and county services. Space limitations cause inefficiencies that lead to late start times, delays in the courtroom, and juggling of locations.
In addition, existing heating and cooling systems are inefficient and cannot be repaired. The roof leaks. The current Courthouse buildings do not meet current earthquake safety codes. Cabling does not meet today’s technology needs. The current design also poses potential security risks because people accused of crimes are escorted to court along public hallways shared with jurors, judges, staff, and visitors.
People also have difficulty finding their way to the current Courthouse and to locate county services once there. Parking is limited and parking spaces are often full during the day. Transit service is rated 40 on a 100-point scale and jurors and citizens have limited amenities within walking distance.
Who would use the new Courthouse?
Citizens would visit the Courthouse for county services, as they do today, to:
The new Courthouse would be home to district court, superior court, Olympia municipal court, the County Clerk’s Office, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Pretrial Services, and Public Defense, as well as the County Assessor, Auditor, Treasurer and Board of County Commissioners, Community Planning and Economic Development, Human Resources, and Public Health.
How would the new Courthouse be different than what we have now?
The new Courthouse would be built on the site of the old Olympia City Hall, near downtown on Plum Street. It would combine 16 County offices and departments, that are now in seven buildings, into two adjacent buildings. A central one-stop customer service desk would help people find the services, offices, and departments they are looking for.
The new Courthouse would replace the Olympia Municipal Justice Center, with the city and county sharing courtrooms and other facilities. It would include improved security and separation for defendants, jurors, witnesses, and observers.
The Plum Street location would be accessible by foot, bike, car, or bus, with more parking and more frequent bus service, and would be ADA accessible. The new Courthouse would also provide new meeting and public areas.
The new Courthouse would have 50 percent more space. It would be built to high efficiency standards resulting in long-term cost savings in heating, cooling, lighting, maintenance, and IT infrastructure.
How would we pay for the new Courthouse?
The new Courthouse would be funded by a property tax increase collected over 25 years. Thurston County Citizens will decide whether to approve the property tax increase in an upcoming election of a levy lid lift, requiring a simple majority for passage. If approved, the property tax on a $275,000 house would be approximately an additional $12 per month. The City of Olympia would also contribute funding.
Was renovating the existing Courthouse considered?
Yes. The existing Courthouse would cost $50 million to repair and maintain for the next 10 years. This does not include adding the space needed for county services today or allowing for the county’s growing needs in the coming years.
How was the new site selected?
The Board of County Commissioners considered sites within the City of Olympi
a, as is required by state law. Evaluation criteria
included size of acreage available, road and transit access, utility service, space for on-site parking, and earthquake and flood risk. The county gathered public input and feedback at open houses and by survey about alternative sites, accessibility, and compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods.
Over the past year, leadership from Thurston County and the City of Olympia have been working collaboratively on a project to build a new Courthouse and Regional Administrative Buildings.
The Courthouse Complex buildings in their current state are at the end of their useful life, costing significant taxpayer dollars to maintain and operate. The current layout and design also makes it difficult for citizens to locate important County resources and services in a timely manner. The success of this project will improve and consolidate services, as well as promote long-term cost savings, improved access, and increased consistencies across County offices and departments.
As financial stewards of citizen tax dollars, Thurston County's elected leaders are committed to meeting the needs of our growing community while promoting economic vitality. With an investment in a new or reconstructed courthouse and civic center, the County can modernize its facilities, consolidate services in a customer first manner, invoke civic pride in our community, and provide opportunities for economic revitalization to the area.
Through a feasibility study, leadership explored reconstructing and expanding the existing campus and buildings, and building a new Courthouse and Regional Administrative Buildings elsewhere within the City Limits of Olympia. The Board of County Commissioners narrowed down three of 12 potential sites to be evaluated. These sites included the current Hilltop site, a undeveloped piece of property on Harrison Street, and the City of Olympia's Leigh Crieghton Justice Center location on Plum Street.
The goal of the feasibility study was to research and analyze information about each of the three sites with a focus as to which site would be the most preferred by the Thurston County community. Thomas Architecture Studios, Inc. (TAS), the selected consulting company, evaluated issues such as customer service, economic development, life cycle costs, environmental sustainability, safety, parking, and transit services.
After community, staff, and elected officials provided feedback, the Commissioners voted to move forward with a proposal on the Plum Street site. The County anticipates bringing a completed proposal to the citizens for a vote during the August 2019 election.