A $1.8 million shuffle will allow Spokane County to open the grand front entrance to the courthouse for the first time since it was locked for safety’s sake in 1995.
More importantly, said the orchestrator of the move, rearranging offices inside the courthouse and moving others to a nearby building will make the public’s business more convenient for many.
Gary Fuher, director of special projects, is in charge of turning a 40,000-square-foot building near the courthouse into offices and a warehouse for some county agencies now in the courthouse.
The building, at 1033 W. Gardner, is the former home for Graybar Electric Co.
With some departments out of the courthouses, others can be shifted around for better service and fewer security concerns, Fuher said.
The cost includes about $800,000 for improving the Graybar Building and about $563,000 to remodel the courthouse. The county will have to pay another $277,000 for engineering, taxes and other fees. Another $150,000 will cover cleanup costs of land the county is exchanging for the Graybar Building.
At least one elected official is skeptical of the plan, which was tentatively approved Tuesday.
“It’s not going to be a convenience for anybody,” said Auditor Bill Donahue, whose agency would be split between two buildings. “The citizens are going to be running back and fourth.”
The courthouse’s main south entrance and lessimpressive east entrance were closed in 1995. Since then, all visitors have entered either the west entrance or through the courthouse annex, where they are screened by security guards with metal detectors.
The airport-style security stations spark frequent complaints. Belt buckles, suspenders and steel-toed boots trigger alarms, slowing the line of visitors waiting to get into the building.
County Commissioner Phil Harris contends the system, which costs about $280,000 a year, does little good, since employees must only flash identification to walk through. Others could slip through with little effort, Harris said.
“It’s a joke,” he said.
Under Fuher’s plan, all Superior Court courtrooms - where there’s the biggest concern for workers’ and visitors’ safety - would be on the second, third and fourth floors. Security guards would move into the stairwell between the first and second floors.
Noting that most county buildings have no security, union leader Bill Keenan said he doubts many employees will complain about the safety changes.
“I think the main concern is to make sure those courtrooms are secure,” he said.
A 1995 land swap between the county and Metropolitan Mortgage Co. makes the changes possible.
The county gave up three acres and four crumbling buildings near the courthouse, where Metropolitan plans eventually to build an urban community of homes, offices and shops. The land is worth about $1.4 million, Fuher said.
In exchange, Metropolitan purchased the Graybar Building and gave it to the county, along with $60,000.
This spring, Graybar moved to east Spokane, near the fairgrounds.
The plans call for moving the county elections office, auto licencing and property appraisers from the courthouse into the Graybar Building. The purchasing department will move from the nearby Broadway Center Building. A team of prosecutors, public defenders and investigators that handles domestic violence cases will move from a private office leased by the city and county.
Graybar also will warehouse some records and food for inmates.
The move into the Graybar Building should be done by next April, Fuher told Harris and Commissioner John Roskelley on Tuesday. Commissioner Kate McCaslin was out of town.
After the Graybar work is complete, the shuffle can begin in the courthouse, a project that should be done by November 1998, Fuher said.
The auditor, assessor and treasurer’s offices will fill the first floor, along with the existing commissioner’s office. Those now are in the first and second floors of the courthouse and in other buildings.
The moves require extensive remodeling, as courtrooms are carved from office space. Fuher said the new work will not be as ornate as existing courtrooms. Where possible, carpets will be cleaned rather than replace, and there will be less oak trim.
“Use hemlock and stain it oak,” Harris suggested.
The moves mean people getting a property deed recorded won’t have to make several trips between the first and second floor, Fuher said. Other transactions will be easier, as well, he said.
But Donahue notes that some of his customers - candidates filing their intention to run for office, for instance - will have to go to both buildings.
Fuher said he’s confident Donahue’s concerns can be solved.
“I think that in the end, those people who move up here (to the Graybar Building) are going to be very happy,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo Map: Spokane County buildings and a land swap
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