Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

What Is the Future for the County Courthouse?

February 2018 Bar Bulletin
President's Page by Andrew W. Maron


May 2016 was like any other month at the King County Courthouse. Judges of the superior and district courts meted out justice to criminal defendants and civil litigants. The County Council worked on legislation to govern a county of 2 million people. King County sheriff deputies and prosecuting attorneys worked to enforce laws and ordinances. And, private lawyers entered the courthouse to transact business on behalf of their clients.

Notably, those same types of activities had been going on at that spot for exactly 100 years. For, on May 4, 1916, the brand new courthouse was dedicated. The elegant and then five-story building was built in Beaux Arts style, and showcased many locally obtained and manufactured materials.

There was no public gathering celebrating the 100th anniversary. Perhaps as a sign of the times, King County released commemorative information on various social media outlets. An example is at https://www.facebook.com/KingCountyWA/videos/1059493084110828/.

More importantly, King County staff have begun to look toward the future as the County considers the age and condition of the courthouse. While the courthouse is historically beautiful, it has looked “well worn” for years and seems behind the times technologically.

The County has properly recognized that, beyond the courthouse, there is a bigger picture here. For the County owns and leases many buildings and properties in its downtown civic campus, almost all in the area generally bounded by Yesler Way, James Street, Second Avenue and Sixth Avenue. These include the courthouse, administration building, correctional facility, 420 Fourth Avenue, Chinook Building, Goat Hill Garage, Yesler Building and King Street Center. Click for larger image

So, it is logical that the County should consider the entire campus of buildings before it makes a decision on the future of the courthouse. That is what the King County Council auditor recommended in 2015, and the County is now moving forward with the planning effort. The County has recently advertised for a consultant to help develop a master plan for the downtown civic campus.

The consultant’s first step will be to conduct a facility needs analysis. At the same time, county staff will be developing a vision and guiding principles for the area. Many factors will influence what will ultimately be done in the area, including the needs of employees and citizens, impact on efficiency of government, and cost.

Additionally, the County recognizes that its properties are at the intersection of five important neighborhoods: historic Pioneer Square, the Central Business District, the International District, Yesler Terrace and First Hill. The development of the civic campus will have a significant impact on the future of these neighborhoods.

I welcome this comprehensive look at the larger county civic campus. It is certainly a worthy effort, and should help lead the community to a good, long-term outcome. But I want to make sure the needs of the county judicial systems are not somehow inadvertently minimized during the consideration of so many other factors. A highly functioning justice system is at the core of all local governments.

Yes, the King County Courthouse has changed over the years and will do so again. This structure is actually the fourth county building used as a courthouse. The first was built in 1860 on Prefontaine Place just across Yesler Way from the current courthouse. The second was constructed in 1876 on the property directly south of the current courthouse. That property is now a park, officially known as City Hall Park because Seattle City Hall was located there from 1891 to 1909.

The third courthouse building was built in 1890 on Seventh Avenue and Alder Street on First Hill, where I-5 is today. When it was outgrown by the population boom in King County, the voters in 1911 were given two choices: locate county public buildings in the Denny Regrade or construct a new county building on the Yesler Estate property at the corner of Third Avenue and James Street. The voters chose the latter.

When the new courthouse opened in 1916, the original main entry was on the south facing Jefferson Street, and there was a grand staircase of green and white marble leading to the second floor. As shown below, the entrance faced a beautifully landscaped City Hall Park. The building was remodeled in 1931 to add six floors, including a three-story “attic” for the King County Jail. At that time, the grand staircase was removed to install elevators.

The building was remodeled again in 1967. Mechanical systems were upgraded, the original main entry was replaced by a loading dock, and Third Avenue became the primary and very un-grand access.

click for larger imageIn 1986, the King County Jail moved to the new correctional facility two blocks up the hill, and the old jail space was converted to other uses, primarily for use by the King County Council.

The King County Courthouse will continue to change to meet the future needs of our citizens and government. As it does so, KCBA wants to ensure that King County lawyers are very much involved. KCBA intends to seek representation on the various committees that are making plans for the civic campus and courthouse. Further, KCBA will provide periodic information to the King County legal community about the courthouse plans and process, so that lawyers and judges are able to add their voices as decisions are being made. ?

Andrew W. Maron is the president of the King County Bar Association and a partner at Short Cressman & Burgess PLLC. His practice focuses primarily on construction, real estate, local government law and commercial litigation. He can be reached by email at amaron@scblaw.com or by phone at 206-515-2247.


 

 

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