County Commissioner Chris Paasch plans to reinvigorate plans to, at minimum, repair the courthouse in Gold Beach and at the most, find a new suitable site on which to build a new courthouse and jail.
The issue will be discussed at the regular commissioner meeting beginning at 9 a.m. today (March 20).
The courthouse on Ellensburg Avenue was built in 1956 and the years are making it show its age. Numerous upgrades have been made under an ongoing five-year plan, said Maintenance Director Eric Hansen.
“You can slap a little lipstick on the pig and it’s still a pig,” Paasch said. “I’ve been inside. If you take the sheetrock back off, there’s mold in the walls.”
A grade of 2.9
Paasch included in his memo to the board a 10-year-old report that shows the Curry courthouse was rated as one of the most dilapidated in the state, earning a ranking of 42 of 48 courthouses; using those rankings, courthouses throughout the state were evaluated on a scale of 1-5.
Curry was one of nine that ranked less than 3.0, earning a 2.96.
That report, which was supposed to be updated every two years, hasn’t been updated since, Paasch said.
The report said Curry’s courthouse fell into the “replacement” category. It also noted that Curry County was starting to try to address its financial situation, which was getting increasingly dire with the decrease in federal timber revenue sales receipts allotted to the county.
“Due to the reduction in these payments, Curry County has made drastic cuts to its general fund operating budget,” the 2009 report summary reads. “Unless an alternative to this revenue is found over the course of the next three years, the county will be forced to make further reductions and … be one of seven counties statewide in critical status for services funded by their general fund.”
That’s what has happened in the ensuring decade; county leaders are still struggling to find a permanent, sustainable revenue source to fund basic operations.
Paasch said a newer reassessment of the courthouse made last year — he hasn’t yet seen that evaluation — indicated the building would be rated at 2.1 today. He also said someone at the county was assigned to follow up on that report last year and it fell through the cracks, leaving Curry off the possible Association of Oregon Counties grant funding rolls. He plans to get that restarted, as well.
“It definitely needs to be replaced, not repaired,” Paasch said of the building. “It’s actually dangerous. I know a lot about construction, and when you can scratch on a concrete wall and it crumbles in your fingernails … I’d hate to see a 5.0 earthquake; the building would be a total loss and my theory is someone would be in it when it happens.”
He said another inspection is slated for next month, and he is in the initial stages of pursuing grant funds at the state and federal level to address the shortcomings — or even replacement of the courthouse and jail.
The challenge in getting grant funds or loans is having the matching funds often required with such an award.
“We’d probably have to do a bond or something,” he said, adding that he is studying that angle, as well. “I’m going to do what it takes to get that done.”
And Paasch doesn’t think it would be as expensive as everyone thinks.
He envisions a facility — it would be required to be built outside the tsunami zone — with the first floor dedicated to the Sheriff’s Office and jail, the second to the courthouse, the third to the district attorney and the fourth to county offices.
Paasch also would like a facility a secure parking and entrance for employees.
“We need to protect our judges and people in the courtrooms,” Paasch said.
A new jail and courthouse would be required to be built outside the tsunami zone, which would likely preclude any construction from taking place in town. Paasch is investigating nearby sites outside the city, he said.
He also attended an AOC meeting last fall where a representative from a company that issues loans for jails said it might cost $8.4 million — less than the cost of the bond voters approved to rebuild Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach, Paasch noted — to build a 70-bed jail. The 2009 report, however, placed an estimated cost to replace the courthouse at $9.18 million — the total figure in line with what Paasch thinks it could cost to put all the county operations under one roof.