Clackamas Co. Courthouse near ‘100-foot dropoff’ into river

Clackamas County

Current Clackamas County Courthouse was built in 1936

OREGON CITY, Ore. (KOIN) — When the Clackamas County Courthouse was built 84 years ago, it was built on the banks of the Willamette River in Oregon City.

When Presiding Judge Kathie Steele began practicing there in 1981, the building was more than 10 feet from a ledge. Now, though, one corner of the Clackamas County Courthouse sits just 3 feet from a 100-foot drop into the river.

The back area of the courthouse was once used for parking — but for safety reasons it’s now blocked off.

This 100-foot dropoff is about 3 feet away from the back edge of the Clackamas County Courthouse in Oregon City, March 5, 2020 (KOIN)

Judge Steele has big concerns about what would happen in an earthquake.

“We believe this courthouse is dangerous for people to be in,” she told KOIN 6 News. “Right now we are within a yard of a 100-foot dropoff into the Willamette River.”

Clackamas County Judge Kathie Steele, March 5, 2020 (KOIN)

Clackamas County is planning to build a new courthouse. Not only is the current one sitting on the eroding bank of a river, it’s too small.

It began as a single courtroom, jail and county office. Now there are 11 courtrooms, all of them small. Judge Steele said that poses safety issues with victims and defendants sharing crowded spaces in both courtrooms and hallways./

There should also be at least 3 more judges and courtrooms to manage the caseload, she told KOIN 6 News.

Plans are underway to build the new courthouse on county land, up on the hill at the Red Soils Campus near the jail at an estimated total cost of $230 million.

An artist’s rendering of what the proposed Clackamas County Courthouse could look like, as seen on their website March 5, 2020

The state is expected to cover half of the construction costs — provided the county comes up with the other half. In all, the state could cover $95 million in eligible costs,.

The other $135 million would have to come from the county. One option the Board of Commissioners is talking about is the possibility of a public-private partnership to finance, design, build and maintain the facility.

On March 10, 2020, the Board of Commissioners will hold another study session to evaluate their options.

If the funding gets worked out, they hope to open a new courthouse in about 4 years.

Facts about the Clackamas County Courthouse:

It was built in 1936 to house all the county offices and a single courtroom. Now, the county offices are located elsewhere and the building has been retrofitted to hold 10 more courtrooms.

The need for a new courthouse:

Lack of security/safety
Not enough courtrooms to handle the population and cases
Equipment is obsolete
Not built to seismic and geographic standards currently in place.

Money for the courthouse

2017 — Legislature gave $1.2 million for planning
2019 — Legislature authorized $31.5 million in state bond funds, as long as Clackamas County matched that money.

Total Project Cost: Around $230 million. State would cover about $95 million of that total. The other $135 million will come from the county.

Clackamas County still looking for matching fund. On February 13, 2020, the Board of Commissioners authorized looking into a Public-Private Partnership (P3, for short) to finance, design, build and maintain. On March 10, 2020, the Board of Commissioners will hold another study session to evaluate their options.

Why not just move?

None of the other county buildings were designed to meet the specialized needs of a courthouse. Remodeling would be, essentially, a waste of taxpayer money.

New courthouse features

16 courtrooms, 20 judges chambers
Space for the DA’s Office
Better areas for the public and the juries
Secure loading/staging of prisoners
Secure holding cells
Closer to many other county facility buildings, like Social Services, Public Health, etc
Much easier access to public transit and ample parking

How long will construction take?

About 18 months once it actually begins. Construction schedule right now calls for grand opening in late 2023.

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