County courthouse renovation under way

"Rooms in the Island County Courthouse now look much as they did when the building was first constructed in 1949.As part of a $2.4 million renovation project, paneling and other improvements added to the building's interior over the past 52 years have been stripped away to reveal the original courthouse walls and ceilings. All furniture and most utility fixtures were removed.Larry Kwarsick, county public works director, said he marveled when he saw just how large the original courtrooms were. He was intrigued as he walked through the former jail space and discovered traces of the long-since-removed metal bars. He discovered previously unknown spaces where prisoners scribbled messages to each other.Now in its fifth week, work on the 19,000-square-foot, two-story courthouse will include replacing the building's ceilings, floors and interior light fixtures, and much of the water pipes. New ventilation and fire-sprinkler systems will be installed. The structure will also be brought up to earthquake standards through seismic retrofitting and other improvements.The project, expected to be completed in mid-December, will also include removal of contaminated soils and toxic asbestos. County workers recently found that asbestos was used more extensively in the original design than previously believed.Until earlier this year, when the county's new Law and Justice Center opened, the older courthouse housed most of the county's court offices, including the district and superior courts, prosecutor's office, judges' chambers and law library. The building also contained several other county departments. At one time, Kwarsick said, the county commissioners were also headquartered in the courthouse - and will be again, after the renovation is completed.Kwarsick said workers will also shore up a sagging section of the building's second floor. At the end of the day, it will be ... like a brand new building, he said.The courthouse renovation is the second phase in the county's five-phase capital facilities master plan.The project began with the construction of the new Law and Justice Center adjacent to the courthouse and eventually included the renovation of the county annex building, as well as a new juvenile justice center, county administrative offices and health care facility.Kwarsick said the ongoing development of the county's three-block campus, which spans the area between Sixth and Eighth streets and is flanked by Main and Haller streets, has underscored the cooperative relationship between the two governments.The partnership we've developed is a good partnership, said Kwarsick, adding that it appears county and Coupeville officials have struck a balance between the county's obligation to serve the broader community and the town's desire to maintain the livability of its surrounding neighborhoods. The county has played an integral role in Coupeville's development since the late 1800s.According to historical data supplied by the town, the county moved its offices to Coupeville in 1881, first renting the town's Masonic Hall and soon after buying the Good Templars Hall at the intersection of Front and Grace streets.The county built its first courthouse at the corner of Northeast Sixth and Haller streets and, in 1900, added a small jail nearby.The second courthouse - the one under reconstruction - officially opened in 1949. The annex and county jail were built across the street in 1972. "

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