County gets OK for new facility

Written by Kelly Ducote / The Observer August 02, 2013 10:29 am

Union County moved its court facilities into the old St. Joseph Hospital in 1992 after the old courthouse was condemned. After more than 20 years, the county is getting money to build a new courthouse. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Union County moved its court facilities into the old St. Joseph Hospital in 1992 after the old courthouse was condemned. After more than 20 years, the county is getting money to build a new courthouse. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
 

Union County set to get $2 million from state to fund $3.1 million courthouse 

After years of waiting, new court facilities are finally in the works for Union County.

As a result of the latest legislative session, the county will be getting $2 million to complete a $3.1 million construction project for a new courthouse.

“We’ve been waiting 22 years,” Judge Russell West said.

The new 2-story, 13,500-square-foot building will have two courtrooms, judges chambers and staff space, but county officials are not yet sure exactly where the building will be located.

Funding largely comes from House Bill 5016, which directly allocates $2 million for the Union County Courthouse project, West said.

County Commissioner Bill Rosholt said they are still working on financing, but the plan is for the county to borrow about $750,000 and pay the remaining balance.

“This was something we couldn’t leave on the table,” Rosholt said. West, Rosholt and Judge Brian Dretke have made trips across the state to lobby for a new county court facility.

“Last year, we thought we had it, but it didn’t really come to task,” West said. This year, though, about five years after they started lobbying the Legislature, they got the OK.

“We’re very excited. Our staff is excited,” West said. “All the lawyers are very supportive and happy that we’re getting this money. It’s just wonderful news from the Legislature.”

The courts and staff were moved into the old St. Joseph Hospital in 1992 when the old courthouse was condemned. Leaders say the hospital was never adequate to serve in that capacity.

“It’s not a courthouse. That’s a misnomer,” West said.

Some of the problems include large pillars that allow patrons to avoid eye contact and hide from judges. Overcrowding is also a problem.

“It’s gotten so crowded they’ve had to bring criminals into the staff area for a holding type area,” creating an uneasy situation for employees, Rosholt said.

And the old building is not one that can be easily
remodeled.

“The walls are so thick that you can’t really do any renovations,” Rosholt said.

Another issue, laid out in a report to the Legislature several years ago, says a preschool is located in the building just two floors from where sex offenders report.

Those issues are nothing new.

In 1993 and 1994, the county unsuccessfully tried to levy a bond for a new courthouse. In 2008, a study by Heneberry Eddy ranked Union County Courthouse 48 out of 48 in the state, prompting county officials to start lobbying the Legislature since a bond did not seem feasible.

“We were dead last. That was the impetus for trying to get some money,” West said.

West said Rep. Bob Jenson, Sen. Bill Hansell and Rep. Greg Smith were instrumental in getting the $2 million in funding. The Oregon Supreme Court, Chief Justice Thomas Balmer and former Chief Justice Paul De Muniz also played important roles, West said. Commissioner Rosholt also did a lot of
lobbying.

“(Rosholt) drove down to Salem numerous times to lobby for the courthouse, so he deserves most of the credit here,” West said.

West said the next step is to secure all funding and start coming up with concepts. No timeline is set for when the county might break ground.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.