A $1.8 million construction project is underway at the Benton County Justice Center, but the work won’t disrupt court proceedings or other business at the building on the county’s Kennewick campus.
The project will revamp the clerk’s office, the prosecuting attorney’s office and the jury assembly room, and it’s expected to wrap up by January or February of next year.
“This project is a good one for both the community and the county. It will be a nice facelift for the clerk’s office and the jury meeting room. We’re excited at the county to continue to press on in meeting those needs and complete this project,” said Riley Ollero, the county’s construction manager.
The work is being done in three phases and will involve swapping some department spaces.
The first phase, which kicked off this summer, involves renovating part of the second floor to create a new home for the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office manages documents for Superior Court, collects legal financial obligations, processes passports and administers the jury system for Superior and District courts, among other duties. It’s currently housed on the first floor, near the Superior Court courtrooms, and it’s led by Josie Delvin, the elected county clerk. The staff numbers about 38 people.
The move upstairs will have many benefits, including more space and privacy for the public, Delvin said.
The existing clerk’s office has five public windows, and they’re close together with limited privacy and challenging acoustics. There’s no lobby area; instead, the public forms a line along a wall.
The new clerk’s office will have a designated lobby and seven public windows with more space and separation. They’ll be equipped with microphones to make it easier to communicate.
Upstairs, “it will be almost like the public steps into a cubicle to talk to a clerk. We’re growing too much to continue having the tiny window areas that we do,” Delvin said, adding that, “there are times now when we have all five windows manned and still have a line down to the sheriff’s office.”
The second-floor space the clerk’s office is moving into used to hold county commissioners and the human resources department before the Benton County Administration Building opened in 2021.
The administration building is part of the county’s campus at 7211 W. Okanogan Place, along with the justice center, jail, coroner’s office and county maintenance shop.
The second phase of the justice center project will transform the former clerk’s office space on the first floor into a revamped jury assembly room, expanding the capacity to 200 people.
The existing jury room can hold 110 people, which isn’t enough to accommodate larger jury pools and means the clerk’s office sometimes must bring in potential jurors in two groups. Having the courtrooms and the jury assembly room on separate floors also creates a chokepoint at the elevators and poses a challenge for those with mobility issues. The third phase will expand the prosecuting attorney’s office on the second floor into space that used to hold the jury room, before the Phase 2 work.
The project’s price tag totals about $1,865,000, with the money coming from the county’s capital fund.
CKJT is the designer and Banlin Construction is the contractor.
Ollero said the clerk’s office and prosecuting attorney’s office will carry on with business as usual during construction, and the public will be notified and signs posted when the office locations change.
Glenn Vaagen, communications coordinator for the county, said the justice center work is about putting improvements in place for the public and “making sure everybody has what they need to do their job, whether it’s a member of the prosecuting attorney’s office, or a juror, or anybody in between.”
Apart from the construction project, two other departments at the justice center recently swapped spaces: the Office of Public Defense now is on the second floor and Therapeutic Courts is on the first.
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