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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County purchases Monroe Court building for $12 million, paving way for campus reconfiguration

To ease crowding in the Spokane County Courthouse, the county has purchased the Monroe Court building for $12 million.  (COLIN MULVANY)

Spokane County commissioners hope their decision last week to buy an office building adjacent to their roughly nine-block county campus around the courthouse will settle many longtime space issues affecting multiple offices.

The lack of space has led to some departments being spread among multiple buildings, a perennial parking shortage and plenty of confusion for visitors trying to access county offices or attend court hearings.

To help accommodate the county’s need for more offices, Spokane County commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of the Monroe Court building at 901 N. Monroe St. for $12 million in cash last Tuesday. The more than 71,500 square-foot, mixed-use office space on the east side of the campus will house the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office in the immediate future, and several other departments in the coming years.

“It’s been something that, for decades, has been talked about and considered,” said Jeff McMorris, the county’s community engagement and public policy adviser. “This is a generational purchase.”

Monroe Court, built in 1952 and remodeled in 1992, is owned by the DeWood Revocable Asset Trust and Monroe Court Limited Partnership. The county has intermittently leased space in the building since at least 2006. The county assessor’s office has valued the building and surrounding property at $9.5 million and it was listed with a price tag of $13.5 million.

Currently, all 120 or so attorneys with the Prosecutor’s Office are spread across five spaces in four different buildings: the Broadway Center, the Spokane County Courthouse annex, the Public Safety Building and the small S&T building directly across from the courthouse’s main entrance.

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said that presents its own challenges when it comes to communication between divisions and oversight of his employees.

“One of the things that is easy to underestimate is the management challenges of being in separate locations, really across the whole county courthouse campus,” Haskell said. “It’s so easy to be able to go down the hallway, or go downstairs or upstairs. It’s so much more convenient, and it makes management more effective.”

McMorris said consolidating most of those prosecutors into one office has been a goal of the county’s since the 2000s, when a land use survey was conducted to help inform the 2006 master plan for the campus. Another post-pandemic analysis on space use was conducted in 2022, and it too called for a larger space to house the attorneys.

The need for additional parking, more room for Superior Court in the courthouse and more space for the Spokane County public defenders are identified in both reports.

“The themes in ’06 and 2022 are the same themes we’ve been talking about the last 12 months,” McMorris said.

Two-thirds of the Monroe Court building already is occupied, so while the prosecutors’ move may be more immediate, it could take years for the county to relocate all of the offices they hope to. McMorris said existing leases will be honored and the county will determine whether or not to renew them based on the county’s needs.

“The nice thing about the Monroe Court building is if it’s space we don’t need, it will be income producing,” McMorris said.

The county is considering moving several public facing departments, like the Treasurer’s Office, Assessor’s Office or the Auditor’s Office, from the first floor of the courthouse to the Monroe Court building. McMorris said doing so would make it easier for folks to access those services, while also freeing up space for the potential expansion of Spokane County Superior Court.

“In the next five to 10 years, we’re going to need additional space for superior courts,” McMorris said. “The Monroe Court building is going to provide options.”

Relocating the prosecutors also will free up more space in the Public Safety Building, which will allow the county to consolidate District Court into one location. The building currently houses most of the courtrooms where District and Municipal Court cases are heard, save for a handful in the Broadway Center across the street.

McMorris said visitors can have a hard enough time figuring out if their case is in municipal, district or superior court, let alone which courtroom, and in which building, it will be heard in.

“I can’t tell you how often when I’m walking around the campus people ask me,” Haskell said. “It’s confusing for almost anybody.”

Once all the reconfiguring is done, the county may sell the S&T building and the Broadway Center, McMorris said. The old structures are across the street from the bulk of the campus, lack modern central heating and air conditioning and have significant shortcomings when it comes to accessibility. The S&T building does not have an elevator, and the elevator in the Broadway Center does not serve all floors.

“That building is simply one of the most inhospitable when it comes to the extremes in the season,” Haskell said of the Broadway Center, where he spent more than a decade arguing cases in as a deputy prosecutor. “It’s sometimes downright cold in the winter time and blazing in the summertime.”

It would also be prohibitively expensive to bring the buildings up to modern standards, McMorris said. The work needed to bring them up to the state’s new energy efficiency standards, and to make them compliant with the American With Disabilities Act, would cost millions – much more than the aging structures are worth.

The Monroe Court building will need some improvements to meet the new standards, but the benefits are worth the investment, McMorris said.

Among the many benefits will be the more than 150 parking spaces that come with the property, which is good news for county employees and visitors alike. McMorris said it can take up to 16 years for a staff member to accrue enough seniority to lay claim to one of the few designated spots on the campus.

Haskell said he welcomes the improvements to the visitor experience that will come with relocating his office, and other public-facing offices, to Monroe Court. Highly-frequented departments will be centrally located in a more accessible office, and future court-attendees won’t have to wander around campus to find their courtroom.

“It sits right on Monroe; it’s easy in and easy out,” Haskell said. “I think it’s a good investment for the county taxpayer, and it’s going to make for easier public access.”