Benton County Courthouse set to get facelift

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldApril 8, 2014 

The historic Benton County Courthouse in Prosser is poised to get a facelift.

The county plans to use a $350,000 grant to repair and restore some exterior features of the almost 90-year-old building, including terra cotta, stucco, masonry and some galvanized iron pieces.

County commissioners approved a grant agreement with the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation during their regular Tuesday meeting. They took the action as part of their consent agenda, in which several items are approved at once in a single vote.

After the meeting, Commissioner Jerome Delvin noted that the courthouse is used by numerous county staffers as well as the public. "You've got to keep an old building up, keep it updated," he said.

"It's an historic site. It's the county seat. We're proud of it," added Commissioner Shon Small.

The grant also will cover removing an exterior spiral staircase in the back of the building that acted as a fire escape for the "penthouse" area.

Years ago, sequestered juries would stay in the penthouse area, but it now holds mechanical equipment and the staircase no longer is needed.

The restoration work is expected to start later this year.

The county also plans to replace the courthouse's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. That project will cost about $1.6 million, with some of the money counting as the required match for the restoration grant.

The county also may replace some of the courthouse's exterior doors and steps, anticipating that the work will count as a match for a future state grant award. The county hopes to win money to replace the courthouse's windows in the next state preservation grant cycle.

The courthouse was built in 1926, a little more than two decades after the county was created.

An attached building was added in the 1980s, bringing the footprint to about 30,500 square feet.

In 1984 and again in 2010, county voters weighed in on the idea of moving the county seat from Prosser to the larger city of Kennewick. Both times, a relocation measure fell short of the required 60 percent super-majority approval.

Also Tuesday:

w Eric Hsu, who heads up the Benton & Franklin Counties Office of Public Defense, presented the 2013 annual report for Benton County operations.

In District Court, the number of cases filed was up slightly from recent levels, while the number of cases assigned to public defenders dropped 5.3 percent.

Hsu credited the arraignment docket representation program as a contributing factor. In that program, public defenders provide provisional representation at all arraignment dockets, where cases can at times be resolved.

In Superior Court, case filings and the number of cases appointed to public defenders were comparable to recent years.

But 2013 saw several new homicide cases filed and assigned to public defenders, Hsu said.

He also provided a financial update and a snapshot of progress toward several goals, from streamlining communication with clients, their families and the public, to overhauling the website. The full annual report is available on the office's website, www.bentonfranklindefense.org.

The 2014 strategic plan, also outlined by Hsu on Tuesday, is posted there as well.

w Carl Adrian of the Tri-City Development Council and Kris Watkins of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau presented a conceptual plan for future public access to parts of the Hanford site.

The two agencies hired a consulting firm to develop the plan, with input from the public. It's intended to lay out the community's vision.

Commissioners will review the plan and are expected to consider a resolution endorsing it.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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