Study lays out 3 scenarios for Thurston County’s next courthouse and office complex

A study on where to build Thurston County’s next courthouse and office complex imagines moving it closer to city and state government at the entrance of downtown Olympia, spurring development on the western edge of the city, or remaking the current site on a hill overlooking Capitol Lake.

County officials plan to bring a proposal to voters in August to pay for the building project, but where it will go has not been decided.

Officials narrowed 12 possible sites down to three. They hired Thomas Architecture Studios in Olympia to do a feasibility study that weighs the pros and cons of each site, from cost estimates and construction schedules to soil quality to proximity to public transit.

A draft of that study was released this week.

“There is no constraint on any of these sites that would prevent us from doing this project. There are definitely constraints that would cost us more money,” Ron Thomas of Thomas Architecture Studios told county, court and city leaders at a presentation Thursday.

The study looked at:

-Building on the site of Olympia’s Lee Creighton Justice Center on Plum Street Southeast near downtown at an estimated cost of $237 million to $316 million

-Building on lane at Harrison Avenue Northwest and Kaiser Road Southwest on the city’s west side for $199 million to $276 million

-Renovating and expanding the current complex on Lakeridge Drive Southwest for $214 million to $308 million

Those costs — which are based on today’s prices plus projected inflation for the years construction is expected to happen — vary based on design, construction schedule, land costs, surface parking versus a parking garage and other factors.

Thomas said which ever site and design officials choose, they should do so soon to have plenty of time to promote the plan ahead of the election.

“Make your decision very quickly. If you can make it in December, great. If you can’t, make it in January,” Thomas said.

The options

County officials say the current complex is old and costly to maintain. At 220,000 square feet, it is also too small. The feasibility study says the county needs 272,000 square feet — most of the need is in court space — and will need 336,000 square feet by 2050.

While the study did not suggest a site or design, Thomas said Plum Street was the best option in terms of sustainability and growth management, which encourages large developments to be close together and to make use of existing infrastructure.

That site not without complications. One design call for taller buildings than the current allowable height for that area, while another design involves building on top of the Yashiro Japanese Garden.

Olympia’s municipal court would also have to move out during construction.

The Harrison Avenue site is the largest under consideration, but since the area is less built up it could require costly infrastructure improvement such as widening roads and adding sidewalks. The study says there is room for commercial or residential buildings on the site whose developer could share those costs with the county.

At an open house last month, neighbors said they worried about traffic problems in the area if the courthouse goes there. Thomas said a ramp from U.S. 101 onto Kaiser Road — which is in the works but not yet funded — would help prevent those problem.

Staying at the current site would require doing construction in phases for up to five years and moving courts and offices to temporary locations for that time. All five designs for that site include a parking garage to help with the parking shortage there is now.

If the county chooses another site, Thomas said, some or all of the property could be sold off.

Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.