Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby made clear recently that any new Thurston County Courthouse belongs in the county seat of government. That means Olympia. No ifs, ands, or buts.
If county commissioners are serious about putting any county offices somewhere other than Olympia, they had better lay down their cards quickly. Show us which ones and how this would pay off.
Certainly there is a fair argument to put some satellite offices in outlying communities such as Tenino or Yelm. Police and emergency response agencies are no strangers to this approach — just as state government allows satellite offices around the state and county auditors subcontract with local businesses to serve as vehicle licensing subagents in outlying areas.
But sticking major county functions in out-of-the-way places makes less sense than the commissioners’ earlier proposal to build a convention center. What made the convention center idea a fiasco earlier this year is that commissioners sought financial support from city governments before even checking to see if a convention center could pay for itself.
Certainly commissioners must be feeling pressure to deliver a legislative accomplishment after two Republican-backed “independents” were elected last fall, replacing longtime Democratic incumbents who chose to retire. That makes all three commissioners, including previously elected board chairman Bud Blake, political independents.
Selby laid down what ought to be the law in a recent meeting with commissioners. She said the City Council is unanimous in wanting the new courthouse in the city.
Thinking before leaping is smart for a project that could cost $200 million. Putting the facility at the site of the former city hall along Plum Street, which is near Interstate 5, needs close study, but at first glance it makes a lot of sense. Still there are traffic and other logistical questions that need answers for any downtown site — even one on the outskirts of downtown such as the Plum street site.
But using that site brings the courthouse back near the city downtown, which makes sense. Former commissioners sought to put the complex on a hillside site overlooking Capitol Lake in the 1970s, erecting a less than satisfactory complex of buildings that was out of the way and that wore out very quickly.
The urgency of moving on a courthouse, which has been expressed for a couple of years by Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy and District Court Judge Brett Buckley, is legitimate. There are genuine security and crowding issues in the main courts. Renovating has been ruled out as too costly.
Commissioners are right to keep looking into financing options, and we hope the city can help the county keep costs down. One way is to make the old city hall site available.