Historic Courthouse Replacement Project Officially Breaks Ground in Clackamas County

County leaders and staff, lawmakers and elected officials, state Supreme Court and circuit court judges, and community members braved frigid temperatures and persistent showers Friday morning to celebrate the official launch of the county’s $313 million courthouse replacement project.

The original, historic courthouse was built in 1936 in downtown Oregon City, when the county’s population — fewer than 50,000 — was a small fraction of the more than 420,000 it is today.

And its size and design is not the only problem. It also lies less than three feet from a steep cliff overlooking the Willamette River, and its foundation was not constructed on bedrock. The soil beneath the historic structure would “liquefy” in an earthquake event, officials explained during Friday’s ceremony.

Construction of the replacement courthouse is scheduled for completion in 2025.

“This effort started more than 30 years ago,” said Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith. “With the help of our state partners and the good fiscal management at the county, we are able to do this project without requiring any new taxes.”

Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer, representing Oregon’s 5th District, and most of the state senators and representatives from Clackamas County attended Friday’s event, as did a number of current and former staff members, commissioners and other elected officials.

A bipartisan contingent from the Oregon State Legislature have helped make the county project possible, including a $94.5 million allocation in 2022.

“This process is the fruit of our labor, and our coming together,” said Senator Mark Meek, from Gladstone. “We all have representing and working for the people of Clackamas County in common.”

The replacement courthouse’s location on the county’s Red Soils Campus in Oregon City will provide courthouse users with easy access to county resources including social services, behavioral health, public health, juvenile, veterans’ services, and A Safe Place Family Justice Center.

Senator Mark Meek.

“On behalf of the court, I want to thank all the local leaders for making this possible,” Oregon Supreme Court Justice Stephen K. Bushong said. “I can personally attest to how a new courthouse can increase access to justice.”

Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Kathie F. Steele said the replacement courthouse will modernize the legal process.

“The current courthouse is obsolete and unable to be technologically updated,” she said. “It is sitting on soil that will liquefy during an earthquake. The new courthouse will have 14 completed courtrooms, with room to expand.”

Circuit Judge Kathie Steele with Chair Tootie Smith.

Clackamas Progress Partners, a consortium of organizations involved in more than 40 successful courthouse construction projects worldwide, will design, construct and maintain the replacement courthouse. When the replacement courthouse is completed, it will mark the first time in Oregon state history that a courthouse building is delivered through a public-private partnership.

“The team we have assembled for this project are the best in their fields,” said Clackamas Progress Partners’ Karl Schaefer.

Smith touted that the courthouse construction will provide a big boost for the local economy and create hundreds of local jobs with competitive wages, and provide opportunities for local labor and businesses. Clackamas Progress Partners has committed to hiring local disadvantaged, minority-owned, women-owned and service-disabled-veteran-owned businesses to complete the project.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bushong.

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, who was unable to attend Friday’s ceremony, sent a brief statement Meek read prior to his remarks.

“Thank you for the opportunity to share a few words with you as you break ground on what will become a representation of justice, accountability, and hope in Clackamas County. In 1936, the courthouse was built to serve a population of 50,000. In 2023, through the work of the Clackamas County and Clackamas Progress Partners, the creation of a courthouse meant to serve 420,000 and growing lies ahead of us.

“Mexican author Doménico Cieri Estrada said, ‘Bring the past only if you’re going to build from it.’ Today marks an opportunity to do just that. Congratulations to all who worked to make today happen, and I look forward to completion of the project and celebrating an inclusive space for county residents to achieve justice.”

The project will also support the county’s goal to be carbon neutral in operations by 2050 and complies with the Oregon Green Energy Technology program, officials said. The contractor’s design selections will focus on operations, security, technology, and sustainability.

Best practices in use of materials, systems and energy efficiency are embedded within the design to attain LEED Version 4.1 Gold Certification, which is the next-generation standard for green building design, construction, operations and performance.

The courthouse project is also participating in the Oregon Green Energy Technology in Public Buildings program, which will include technology to produce at least 25% of the building energy onsite. The use of mass timber adds to the county’s sustainability commitment and will bring an immediate connection to Oregon as community members enter the courthouse.

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