Clackamas County courthouse, library construction projects hit speedbumps

Two major public projects in Clackamas County are hitting bumps midway through construction, both on a new courthouse in Oregon City and on a library in Oak Lodge.

On March 19, Clackamas County commissioners gave their blessing to the 17th change order on the courthouse construction, while the city holds onto the county’s fees pending final permit approval. In Oak Lodge, the library construction was paused while county and water district officials work to agree on where to locate utilities.

Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith, who is running for reelection in May, said it was time for “construction season” to get underway with the end of winter. Smith made her comments on the county’s public construction projects during separate meetings on March 19 and 20 when she was representing the county and North Clackamas Parks respectively.

“Time is of the essence to make sure these permits are done from both entities so we can get moving on these,” Smith said on March 20.

With large projects, Smith said on March 19 that the county was bound to have construction changes that officials couldn’t predict.

“It’s always that way in construction, but you know we’re still on the positive side of all this,” Smith said.

Nancy Bush, the county’s operating officer, said that the latest courthouse project change order related to a failure to include recording systems and some courtroom amplifiers for the district attorney’s office in the original contract. Other changes to the county’s courthouse project are expected, as city and county are discussing the need for transportation improvements identified at the Redland Road and Highway 213 intersection.

“We’re we are at the end of design and construction so, hopefully, I think, we may have one more change order and hopefully we will be done with them,” Bush said.

Concord Project Manager Jason Varga said that he’s been working with Oak Lodge Water on a third round of revisions. Varga added that Spaulding Avenue came right underneath where the library sits, so the project team had to reroute all the library’s utilities.

“We had a plan when we went in with that we basically have had to redesign where those utilities reroute on the site, so that took a little bit of time for us to do that,” Varga said.

Officials for both the county and Oak Lodge said that no stop-work order was issued, but rather the construction has been put on hold while plans for utilities are being reimagined. Oak Lodge Water General Manager Sarah Jo Chaplin said that it’s important for the county to get its utilities correct, while “moving forward as expeditiously as possible” in what she called a partnership between the governmental agencies.

“Infrastructure work is expensive, and you want to get it right the first time. It’s a core part of the work that you need to do when you’re working on a piece of land,” Chaplin said. “Their project people and our planning people have been working very closely together.”

On the courthouse project, some citizens have asked why a government agency would allow another agency to construct a building without proper permits. City officials say, however, that the county paid $288,449 for initial permits and is cooperating with the city to obtain permits to complete the rest of a critical public project.

Oregon City and county officials say that have been working together to avoid any delays or work stoppages that would prolong completion of this important local, regional and state facility and result in higher costs for the taxpayers.

“Oregon City’s ultimate goal is the same as Clackamas County’s: The construction a facility that is on time, on budget and provides for the timely and efficient processing and prosecution of crimes in the county in a safe and secure environment for all community members,” said Jarrod Lyman, a spokesperson for Oregon City.

Oregon City is currently holding a $935,000 check from Clackamas County for the amount owed associated with the next phase of permitting.

“The city is working diligently with Clackamas County, our local partner, on the construction of the new courthouse facility to ensure that it is built in compliance with all applicable building codes and requirements as well as in the most efficient manner possible to minimize taxpayer expenses,” Lyman said.

Oregon City officials say that they are reviewing plans, performing inspections and working collaboratively with the county on courthouse construction to minimize delays.

“While all necessary inspections and reviews are being completed on schedule for a project of this type, the city is also working with the county on the issuance of surety for a portion of the improvements that have been identified at the Redland Road and Highway 213 intersection,” Lyman said.

Once the surety is obtained, Oregon City plans to issue the second phase of the building permit and deposit the check.

“These bonds are required by state or federal law for most public construction projects or by a private developer,” said Scott Anderson, a spokesperson for Clackamas County.

Oregon City officials rejected any suggestion that the county is getting a special price on its courthouse permits. Clackamas County’s courthouse project is valued at $313 million, but Oregon City’s permits were based on an approximately $97 million valuation.

“As it contains many aspects beyond just the structure itself, the value of the courthouse project is different than the value of the building itself, which is what the permit costs were based off. That lesser amount, $97 million, is the building valuation,” Lyman said.


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