Crime and Safety

Will Thurston County get its new courtroom next month?

Pandemic is delaying arrival of needed materials


While people involved in building a new off-site courtroom for Thurston County Superior and District courts are pushing for a Nov. 1 completion date, some supply chain issues are making that goal uncertain.

Chris Helmer, Thurston County capital project manager, is heading up the project and said certain items must be custom-made to meet specifications. Those materials are taking a while to manufacture and ship in the midst of pandemic-caused chaos.

Despite that, Helmer said he’s pushing hard to have the project completed by Nov. 1 — the date a lease agreement between the county and the building owners goes into effect — so jury trials may take place in the new venue. 

Officials determined an off-site courtroom would be necessary to cut back a growing backlog of jury trials. Trials were halted from March to July, at first from a state Supreme Court mandate and then from local health and justice officials’ concerns. In that time, the caseload in superior and district court began to grow. Last week, superior court officials reported 972 cases pending trial, compared to about 500 the same time last year.

Helmer said the lease was signed Sept. 15 for the courtroom site at 2404 Chandler Court SW in Olympia. The company contracted for the project, Northway Construction, work for the building owner, Helmer said. They’ve been working on the two leased floors of the building with numerous sub-contractors. The building had previously been occupied by several state agencies.

The first floor has been largely cleared out, making it as open as possible. That included taking out offices. The first floor will serve as the location of the courtroom. It will also be the spot for jury selection and orientation and jury deliberation. The space had to be big enough to accommodate all those functions, while still allowing for social distancing, Helmer said. Additionally, there is space for Thurston County Corrections to transport and hold in-custody defendants and witnesses.

The second floor hasn’t taken as much work, Helmer said. It’s going to serve as administrative offices for judges and other officials. The floor was already largely office space.

A contingent of stakeholders, primarily made up of people from the courts, corrections and county finance and management, worked with Helmer to identify the project’s needs.

“A hugely challenging part of this project was to actually define the requirements,” he said.

Now, while Helmer hopes to have the spot ready for Nov. 1, there are some supply chain issues making things complicated. Some equipment in the corrections area, including the toilets, need to be custom-made. The coronavirus pandemic has made the supply chain slower moving, so getting all needed material is holding things up.

“I don’t have a hard date yet as far as when it will be occupied, but again, shooting for Nov. 1,” Helmer said.

courtroom, backlog, corrections, judges, social distancing, defendants, witnesses, jury


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