Benton County is
tapping its $24 million capital projects fund to build sunlit offices for its
administrators and free up space in its crowded Kennewick courthouse.
The county planned to
hold public ground-breaking ceremonies for the $13.6 million,
40,000-square-foot office building on Feb. 17 at its Kennewick justice center
campus, 7122 W. Okanogan Place.
The building will open
in May 2021 as the new Kennewick home for the county commissioners and administration,
as well as the Kennewick offices of the county treasurer, assessor and auditor.
The county’s official
seat in Prosser is not affected by the new addition, said Matt Rasmussen,
public works administrator.
The addition will free
space in the Benton County Justice Center and the nearby Canal Street Annex for
the criminal justice system, which is out of space due to growing court
dockets. Prosecutors, public defenders and the clerk’s office all need more
room, Rasmussen said.
out of the way, they’ll have more of it.
“It will be
exclusively criminal justice in here,” Rasmussen said.
Prosser is still
the county seat
The new office
building is not an attempt to move the county seat to Kennewick from Prosser.
But it acknowledges that some 80 percent of county business transpires in
Kennewick, the population center. The additional space should accommodate
growth for the next two decades.
It’s also not about
mindless expansion of local government, Rasmussen said.
Population growth is
driving up the number of cases heard in the superior and district courtrooms in
the justice center.
have always been very big proponents of maintaining the smallest footprint,” he
An 18-month facilities
study concluded a new administration building would create a more welcoming
environment for people who have business with the county while reserving costly
secured space in the justice center for the courts.
The project is funded
through the county capital projects budget, which is supported by the general
fund and payments the county receives from the federal government in lieu of
The budget works out a
little more than $286 per square foot, which includes finishes and furnishing
space. That is generally in line with construction trends.
The base cost to build
“prime” office space in Seattle in 2019 was $210 to $255 per square foot,
excluding finishes and furnishings, according to a year-end report by Rider
Bucknell Leavett, a construction management firm.
RBL reports on
construction cost trends in major markets such as Seattle. Tri-City data wasn’t
Who goes where?
Rasmussen said the new
addition in Kennewick will make more efficient use of existing county
facilities and lower the cost to provide much needed office and courtroom space
at the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Justice Center on Canal Drive.
The treasurer, auditor
and assessor will vacate their shared 8,500-square-foot office at the Canal
Drive Annex. The offices can be renovated to serve the juvenile center, which
is on the same property.
252,000-square-foot Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick houses district
and superior courts, prosecutors, defenders and the jail, which is why it has
security guards and a metal detector at the entrance.
About one-fourth of
the building is devoted to the commissioners and other administrators who don’t
need that level of protection.
They’ll move to the
new building, which Rasmussen hastens to note will have passive security built
into the design. There won’t be a screening station at the door at the outset.
Rasmussen said the
space crunch in the justice center has real implications for the courts.
The county recently
launched a new specialty court to serve veterans charged with crimes. Qualifying
veterans who get treatment and meet other conditions can get their records
positions haven’t been filled because there’s nowhere to put them, Rasmussen
Veterans court is
funded by the Public Safety Sales Tax, a voter-approved sales tax to combat
crime. The county’s current budget earmarks $400,000 from the public safety tax
to support seven positions in veterans court.
The building design
includes a central atrium, shared ground-floor lobby and energy efficient features.
The parking spots
nearest the building will be dedicated to short-term visitors who stop by to
register to vote, pay taxes, register vehicles and take care of other county
The justice center
About 750 county
employees work on the 23-acre Kennewick justice center campus. They’re posted
to the justice center and jail, the health department, the coroner’s office and
in a maintenance facility.
The 85 who now work at
the annex will add to the population, which also includes roughly 500 jail
Parking is the main
limiting factor for additional development. Rasmussen said there’s room to
develop another 20,000 square feet of space once the office building is
complete. It would have to build a parking garage to build more.
Rasmussen said there
are no plans to add a coffee shop or other commercial activity on the property.
Past efforts to
provide food and beverages at the county property didn’t take off and the
neighborhood is packed with restaurants, fast food and other public services.
Paying for the
The new administration
building will bring new operating costs in terms of added utilities and
maintenance. In its six-year capital projects budget, the county noted some
costs would be offset by lowering Benton County’s share of operating costs at
the Canal Street annex.
When the annex becomes
part of the bi-county juvenile justice system, the county will split operating
costs with Franklin County.
The new building will
even eliminate one pesky expense – the $80,000 Benton County spends annually to
store archived documents off site.
The basement was added
to provide storage and speed up access to stored public documents. It will pay
for itself in 10 years, Rasmussen said.
LLC of Kennewick is the general contractor.
& Design of Kennewick, which conducted the facilities study, is the
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