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County plans another three years of courthouse improvements

An eight-year effort to restore Spokane County’s historic Courthouse should continue for another three years under a plan being undertaken by county staff.

So far, more than $4 million has been budgeted for projects to preserve the 1895 landmark and create greater convenience for the most frequently used public services.

The county is getting ready to start a $900,000 project to move family law offices and that courtroom to the second floor in a space that will offer more privacy to families working on legal issues such as child custody.

The move sets the stage to restore the eastern portion of the main floor outside the county commissioners’ offices.

The county is seeking a $625,000 state grant next year to help pay the $1.25 million cost of restoring the family law space for use by the treasurer.

When the job is finished, the county treasurer will move into the newly renovated space as part of a wider customer service center for property tax assessments, tax collections, marriage licenses and legal recording functions.

Ron Oscarson, facilities director for the county, said the idea is to place services frequently used by the public on the more accessible main floor.

While creating the new office space, the county will make structural improvements to update the courthouse and preserve it for future generations.

Two years ago, the county reopened the main front entrance by installing handicapped access ramps and restoring the granite steps and railing.

State grants have paid for up to half of the cost of the restorations, which date to a master plan in 2006.

However, a state grant for moving the family law court came up $178,000 less than what had been budgeted for the project.

County commissioners last week said they would make up the difference with money from a real estate excise tax collection that is earmarked for courthouse restoration.

The 1895 building in the French Renaissance style was designed by famed Spokane architect Willis Ritchie, who also designed the Old State Capitol in Olympia and the historic Jefferson County Courthouse in Port Townsend, Washington.

The Spokane County Courthouse has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974 and the state historic register since 1986.

In recent years, nearly $2 million was spent to rebuild the main tower and provide structural improvements. Another $1 million has been spent on a historically accurate renovation of interior spaces, including the customer service center.