Washington County Courthouse addition almost finished

The Washington County Courthouse’s new security entrance is just about finished. The only detail that remains is some concrete work that will be completed once weather allows, which officials say could be in the next two to three weeks. The new section is located at the west side of the building and was designed to match the architectural design used to construct the building when it was erected in 1940. Photo by Philip A. Janquart
Philip A. Janquart

Magistrate court will move to third floor; plans to expand parking have been scrapped

Construction of the new secure entrance at the Washington County Courthouse is nearing completion and will soon be operational.

 According to county commissioners, plans to expand parking have been abandoned and magistrate court, currently located across the street, will soon join district court on the third floor of the courthouse.
 “We are getting very close,” Washington County Commission Chairman Lyndon Haines told the Signal American last week, referring to the secure entry.  
 “They just have some groundwork and sidewalk stuff to finish and it should be good to go.”
 The Washington County Courthouse is believed to have been one of the few remaining in the state that did not have a secure entrance. 
 “The courthouses I have visited all have them, including Payette County,” Haines said.
 Commissioners have intended to set the project in motion for years, according to Haines, but supply chain and contractor availability issues prevented it from getting off the ground.
 Meridian-based Beniton Construction, however, began work in August 2023, commissioners originally anticipating completion in December. 
 In recent weeks, the $1.4 million project, funded under the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, has been held up by snow and freezing temperatures.
 “They’re having a hard time with the concrete, obviously, with the cold weather, so that’s kind of the hang up now,” said Haines who was told by Beniton that it could take another couple of weeks for work to wrap up.
 What will serve as the courthouse’s main entrance is located on the west side of the building, off E. Second St. It is the only entrance that can be modified to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility requirements. 
 The structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was erected in 1940, a time when accessibility for disabled persons was less of a priority in construction projects than it is today.
 The main entrance, currently at the front of the building, has no hall or lobby, the split entry design allowing visitors to either go upstairs or down.
 The west entrance, however, is level with the first floor, making it suitable for ADA modification.
 When completed, it will feature a metal detector and be manned by two security officers during business hours. A total of five officers will be utilized to cover shifts, according to Sheriff Matt Thomas.
 “There will be two retired deputies from our office,” he said. “And then, there will be three civilians.”
 The retired deputies will receive over $20 per hour for their service, according to Thomas, while the civilians will earn about $20 per hour.
 Though a metal detector is used to screen individuals accessing the district courtroom, the new requirement to enter the building may be a hard transition for some. It is not clear whether visitors will be asked to remove certain items as they go through security.
 “They will have to walk through a metal detector, and it really depends on whether it’s something they can wand because they will have a wand there, too,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to say … every situation could be different.”
 He added, “I know it’s not going to be popular with some people, and I get that, but those are the times we are in now. It’s not the world it was 10 years ago; it’s not the same world it was 20 years ago and it’s definitely not the same world it was 30 years ago.”
Washington County third floor and parking
 Remodel work on the courthouse’s third floor is currently underway. The purpose is to make room for magistrate court, which is currently located across the street at the annex building at 485 E. Third St. 
 The structure, which is said to have once been occupied by a small grocery store, is now occupied by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and magistrate court. Plans include moving various Sheriff’s Office employees to the annex building following remodel. The Sheriff’s Office and Weiser City Police currently share space at 262 E. Court St., employees working in cramped quarters for years, according to Haines, who noted that the Sheriff’s Office is particularly congested.
 “We will be looking at doing remodel work to the magistrate (annex) building, too, if we can afford it – a little addition there,” he said. “We are going to try to make more room for the Sheriff’s Office; we are going to do that instead of the parking lot.”
 Originally, a large section of lawn in front of the courthouse was slated for removal to provide additional parking, but those plans have been abandoned. 
 “There were some people who were concerned when they started looking at the building – there are some historical parts – so nothing will happen with the front of the building; that got cancelled,” Haines said.
 He noted that that third floor remodel should be completed before spring and that work on the annex building will most likely begin in March or April.


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