Clackamas County Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a plan to pursue a public-private partnership (P3) to build a new county courthouse to replace the old courthouse building, which has been determined to be functionally obsolete and seismically unsound. The P3 approach was determined to be the most cost-effective plan based on extensive analysis of alternatives.
The county plans to build a new courthouse on the county’s Red Soils Campus in Oregon City by 2025 that will meet projected county needs for the next 50 years and comply with specifications outlined by the Oregon Judicial Department.
Clackamas County is requesting $94.5 million in matching bond funds from the 2021 Oregon Legislature, which would represent the state’s 50% contribution of funds toward the estimated $189 million project.
The private partner, to be selected during a competitive procurement process, will finance, design, build and maintain the new courthouse over a 30-year period.
The state and the county will not make any payments until the building is completed and ready for occupancy. Upon completion, the state contribution will be applied as a lump sum payment towards the private financing with the remainder repaid by the county over the 30-year term of the project agreement.
The new courthouse building will be built without any additional tax increases.
County Chair Tootie Smith said a public-private partnership provides the best value for a new courthouse.
“We will not be building a Taj Mahal. We will invite the builders to build a new county courthouse that is not only affordable, but will stand the test of time,” said Smith. “We can do this without raising taxes. We must look to the future.”
There will be opportunities for the public to weigh in through the project timeline.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer said,
“Building a new courthouse is a major priority. Justice delayed is justice denied. The P3 model allows us to accomplish this priority effectively and efficiently within existing resources.”
Before approving the public-private partnership plan, Smith and County Commissioners directed staff to explore two alternative approaches: leasing vacant space and renovating it into a new courthouse; or vacating, renovating and expanding the existing Development Services Building on the Red Soils Campus. Neither alternative plan proved to be feasible.
Built in 1936 to serve less than 50,000 residents, the current courthouse building can no longer handle the demands of a population of nearly 420,000 that continues to grow.
The existing courthouse poses other problems, including but not limited to:
- Earthquake risks
A 2015 seismic evaluation found the existing courthouse has numerous structural deficiencies. Soil tests indicate the ground under the building could liquefy during an earthquake. The courthouse sits on a cliff three feet from the Willamette River and cannot be seismically retrofitted or modernized.
- Safety concerns
There are significant safety concerns due to failing or obsolete mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
- Security challenges
The current courthouse lacks separate paths for victims, witnesses, and prisoners/defendants. Jurors have no sequestration room on site
- Delays in justice
The existing courthouse cannot handle the demands of the population, which leads to delays in trials, incarcerations, and affects child support hearings and civil litigation trials.
Local and statewide stakeholders that support the project include:
- Presiding Clackamas County Judge Kathie Steele
- County Circuit Court Judges
- Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth
- Association of Oregon Counties’ (AOC) Court Facilities Task Force
- Oregon Department of Human Services
- Clackamas County Sheriff Angela Brandenburg
- Clackamas County Bar Association