Courthouse move faces financial questions

June 5th, 2021 by Ken

The consideration of the Thurston County Commissioners to move the administrative offices of county government to new digs on Pacific Avenue and renovate the old courthouse on the hill into a new law and justice center got my blood flowing.  I was and still am hopeful it will come to be.

But, several things are standing in the way of making the move happen.  The first and major is the cost.

The county doesn’t have the money necessary to make the move.  And, without the support of the taxpayers for a bond issue, the county commissioners won’t be able to accomplish what they need to do to make it happen.

Lets look at some costs and figures.  Before we do that – bear in mind that these are tentative and may or may not be completely accurate.

The 3000 Pacific Avenue building, called Atrium is owned by a Seattle company which owns several pieces of property around the state.  The company is currently making some improvements to the property.  I don’t know if those costs are going to be passed on to any renter – in this case the county.

Initial agreement calls for Thurston County (that’s us, the taxpayers) to make $7 million in tenant improvements.  The annual rental costs would be $2.7 million per year for seven years.  Many of our elected county officials have taken a tour of the building and their wants and desires are being addressed.  That may cost more money.  In addition, the property doesn’t have enough parking stalls.  Leasing adjacent property for parking will be another cost.

County commissioners charge each county office rent.  Currently the auditor, the assessor, the treasurer and other county offices are paying $6-$8 per sq. foot of space.  If they move to the new facility that cost could go up to as high as $27 per sq. foot.  That will mean a significant increase in each office budgets.

Then, what are the costs to renovate the abandoned courthouse into a new law and justice center – –   astronomical  probably?

The county has received some $50 million in federal funds for Covid relief.   The commissioners are considering using some of that money to assist with the move.  I suspect that the feds didn’t have that kind of use in mind when they gave taxpayer money to local governments.

Having said all that – I still favor moving county offices to the former new car lot.  It not only takes pressure off of the current courthouse property and avoids taxpayer supported redevelopment of downtown Olympia, but it moves the courthouse and the people’s  business closer to the center of the population base of Thurston County.

However, without leveling with the taxpayers about the whole cost, it will be a hard sell.   Misusing the Covid money will also be a mistake.  The commissioners need to make the case for the move and go to the voters for financial approval.

And, while they’re at it.  Get voter approval to increase the number of commissioners from three to five.  In this rapidly urbanizing county it’s needed.


Posted in Business, Government, Local Politics, The Real News

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