Lane County Courthouse

Lane County’s Courthouse is in need of replacement, and the County is likely to ask voters to consider a bond measure for partial funding. Before it goes to voters for a decision, the County wants to be certain that all residents understand the situation and have the information they need in order to make an informed decision.

 



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About the Courthouse
The Courthouse is home to the Circuit Court, District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and Victim Services. Since it was built 60 years ago, the population it serves has more than doubled, and projections indicate that growth will continue. The building’s physical systems are failing, and the building is not able to support the heavy use it receives.

 

Studies of the current building have documented safety and functionality issues. The design of the building fails to ensure the safety of patrons in a number of ways. Among the most significant issues are the daily security risks posed by inmates sharing the same elevators or corridors with judges, staff and the public. Upgrades to address other issues, including HVAC and electrical failures, are either infeasible due to the limited confines of the building or prohibitively expensive given the building’s current condition.

 

Although the Courthouse is used by 600 people each day, most residents have had no call to visit this building or to experience its limitations. In the coming months, the County will offer site tours for those who are interested in learning more about the building and who it serves. 


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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Which courthouse are we talking about replacing?

The Lane County Courthouse, which houses the State Circuit Court, the Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office.

 

The current Lane County Courthouse is located on the same block as the County’s Public Service Building in downtown Eugene. In fact, the two buildings are connected to each other. If you’ve been on jury duty, the waiting area is in the Public Service Building and the courtrooms are in the adjoining building.

 

Only the quarter-block building that is the current Courthouse would be replaced. The Public Service Building would continue to operate in its current location.

 

The new Courthouse would be built on the vacant lot immediately east of the current location. The County completed the purchase of the vacant lot from the City of Eugene in January 2019.

 

People often mistake the fairly new, metal building near the Ferry Street Bridge with the County Courthouse. That is the Federal Courthouse. 

map of courthouse location

What are the issues with the current building?

The greatest concerns with the current building are:

  • The building is serving twice the population it was designed for in 1959. Space limitations cause inefficiencies that lead to late start times, delays in the courtroom and juggling of locations. There is no space to add programs that could speed resolutions.


  • The building design puts courthouse users, victims and defendants in close proximity to each other, posing risks that can’t be mitigated with the current building.


  • The building is 60-years-old and has major mechanical issues with plumbing, wastewater, electrical, heating, cooling and elevator systems.


  • Portions of the building are not accessible, including courtrooms, bathrooms and the Grand Jury room.

What other services would be provided in a new building?

The Circuit Court, District Attorney’s Office, Lane County Sheriff’s Office, and Rural Police and Search and Rescue Dispatch would be in the new building; they are already located in the current courthouse building. There would also be space for the Oregon Public Defense Services Commission and a Parole and Probation intake office. (The public defenders’ space is required in order to receive state funding.)

 

The new Courthouse would not include general county government services; those will remain in the Public Service Building.

How large would the new Courthouse be? How many courtrooms?

The new Courthouse would be about 297,000 square feet and contain 18 courtrooms, an increase from the current 15 courtrooms.

 

In the current building, courtrooms vary in size and seven of the 15 are too small to accommodate many cases. The new courtrooms would all be the same size and layout – making them as useful and efficient as possible. Because of this, only three more courtrooms are needed to accommodate current and future caseloads.

What would the new Courthouse cost?

The cost estimate – based on detailed pre-design analysis – includes approximately $94 million in matching state funds and approximately $158 million in local funds. The opportunity to leverage nearly $100 million in State funds is critical to help us make space for justice in Lane County. The cost estimate is comprehensive and includes not just the construction costs, but also permit fees, property purchase and other project-related costs.

What if the State does not approve the ‘matched’ portion of the funding?

The County is not able to fund the project without the State’s contribution, and therefore bonds would not be issued.


Why can’t we renovate the Courthouse instead of new construction?

State bond funds are not available for remodel projects. Lane County would not be able to participate in the opportunity to use state bonds for a local courthouse remodel project. This would leave the full cost of renovation on County residents. Even then, renovation would not solve the core issues of limited space or allow for the necessary security improvements.

 

The cost for renovation would also include the cost to lease a large enough building for use as a temporary courthouse (potentially for a period of years), and move the Court to the temporary space and then move back. The Courts must continue operating and cannot be shut down or significantly delayed for renovation work. The same is true for both the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney's Office.

What kinds of cases does the Circuit Court hear?

The Lane County Circuit Court hears a full spectrum of cases. It can hear all offenses from violations such as speeding, up to felonies that include murder or other violent crimes. It also hears civil cases ranging from landlord-tenant disputes and small claims to multi-million-dollar personal injury cases.

 

Orders of protection, restraining orders, and divorces are granted at the Circuit Court. Child custody cases are heard, and adoption ceremonies are held by the Circuit Court.

What are the differences between the Federal, Circuit and Municipal courts?

Nearly any legal issue faced by a Lane County resident could be heard at the circuit court level. The Lane County Circuit Court is the “everything court” and is responsible for hearing misdemeanor cases, felony cases, civil matters, and divorce and child custody cases.

 

The Municipal Court is limited to hearing misdemeanor offenses and enforcing Eugene city ordinances. It is prohibited from hearing more serious cases and enforcing state laws.

 

The Federal Court hears cases involving disputes involving the Constitution and laws passed by Congress.

Does the Courthouse have to be in Eugene?

Yes. The county seat was designated as the location for the Circuit Court courthouse, by Chief Justice order. State statute (ORS Chapter 1.085) provides the Chief Justice of the State of Oregon the authority to designate a location for each circuit court courthouse.

 

The Lane County Charter identifies Eugene as the county seat in Chapter 1, Section 4: “The seat of government of the county as it operates under this charter shall continue to be in the city of Eugene.” The charter can only be amended by a vote of Lane County residents.

What is the estimated cost per square foot for construction?

Using the industry standard for calculating cost per square foot, the estimated cost per square foot for building construction is an average of $586.40.

 

It is important to note that different areas of the Courthouse will require different levels of cost. For example, a non-secured general office area will not cost as much as the highly secured areas such as inmate transport, holding and circulation.

 

Other factors that differentiate courthouse construction from general office buildings include a greater number of elevators, a sally port, enhanced seismic resistance for critical emergency response areas of the building, and greater structural supports for the open span of large courtrooms.

courtroom mock-up

Would inmates be separated from the public in a new Courthouse?

Yes. The new Courthouse would provide for adequate security to increase the safety of visitors, witnesses, victims, families, jurors, staff and in-custody defendants.

 

Inmates transported to the new Courthouse would not use public corridors or staff hallways and elevators as they are moved to the courtrooms, unlike in the current building.

 

In the new Courthouse, a secure circulation column between each pair for courtrooms would include an elevator used only for inmate transport, a small holding cell, a place for in-custody defendants to meet privately with attorneys, and controlled access to the adjacent courtrooms.

 

The diagram below is from the 2018 Scoping Study, which provided recommended courtroom sizing and arrangements. Courtrooms would be universally sized and capable of hearing all types of cases. The Courtrooms would also be wheelchair accessible and include private attorney-client conference areas at their entrances. 

courtroom mock-up

The Circuit Court is a state function, so why are counties responsible for the courthouses?

State law requires counties to “provide suitable and sufficient courtrooms, offices and jury rooms for the court” in ORS 1.185. The State is required to provide the supplies and personal property needed for the operation of the courts (ORS 1.187).

How long would a new building last?

The building would be intended to serve the community for 75–100 years. Population projections and caseload trends allow us to predict very closely the program needs of the courts for the next 50 years and, after that, the flexibility included in the new Courthouse spaces would allow us to adjust accordingly.

 

In contrast, typical office buildings are constructed with 20 to 30-year projected lifespans.

What would happen to the current Courthouse?

The City of Eugene has a five-year option to lease or purchase the building once it has been vacated by the Court. 

While the building is not usable as a courthouse anymore, it could be used for office space or another, more general purpose. It will still need significant renovations and improvements.

If the City does not exercise its option, the County could consider leasing or selling the building or the property on which it sits to another agency or private entity. 


Where can I see the design for the new Courthouse?

The scoping study includes some general illustrations that show how the site may be used (think of it like Legos), but a detailed design will come after funding is secured and include opportunities for community involvement.

Any design will need to represent a responsible use of taxpayer resources.