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:
- Serve on a jury
- Make a payment
- Apply for a permit
- Apply for a passport
- Register to vote
- Visit a County official
- Conduct court-related business
- Attend a meeting or hearing
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 a 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.
Was renovating the existing Courthouse considered?
Yes. The existing Courthouse would cost $50 million to repair and maintain for the next 10 years, according to a study by an independent consultant completed in 2016. This does not include adding the space needed for county services today or allowing for the county’s growing needs in the coming years.
The same study notes: "The surveyed sites and buildings are well maintained by knowledgeable, dedicated maintenance staff given limited resources available." (Section 1.2)
How was the new site selected?
The Board of County Commissioners considered sites within the City of Olympia, 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 risk from an earthquake and sea-level rise. The county gathered public input and feedback at open houses and by survey about alternative sites, accessibility, and compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods.
The Commissioners selected the Plum Street site at a public meeting on January 24, 2019.
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.
Use the calculator to the right to estimate the annual property tax you may pay for the courthouse, if passed. Type your property value under the 'property value' input.
NOTE: The calculator is not currently working correctly in the Internet Explorer web browser. If you cannot see the calculator to the right, go here to view in a different web setting.
How was the cost of a new courthouse determined?
The county hired an expert team to determine the cost to build equivalent structures and parking on each of three alternative sites. Architect, engineering, construction, and real estate experts helped develop the cost estimates.
The team calculated the space needs of the courts and county offices and departments and cost to address security needs, energy efficiency, and seismic safety standards. Allowances for taxes and inflation were also considered.
The cost to build on each site varied depending on whether it would be necessary to demolish existing structures, build in phases, or temporarily relocate county services during the building phase on specific sites. The estimate of the cost to build on sites, other than the current Hilltop site, took into account the potential revenue gained by selling the Hilltop property.