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Benton County chooses site for new courthouse, jail

Benton site
Benton County
Benton County commissioners chose a site at 1350 NE 2nd Street in Corvallis for the location of a new justice system campus, to include a courthouse, jail and other facilities.

Benton County Commissioners selected a site Friday for the county’s new courthouse and jail.

The three commissioners unanimously chose a site just north of downtown Corvallis. They noted significant community opposition to a site on the city’s west side in making their choice.

But Commissioner Nancy Wyse noted that the north side location comes with a cost: It could be six times as expensive to acquire, and might possibly require the use of eminent domain.

“It does matter, because it is taxpayer money," she said. "And it is our job to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money.”

Still, Wyse agreed with her fellow commissioners, Pat Malone and Xan Augerot, that despite the cost, the north side location was superior.

"I think that we have a great opportunity, with a blank slate, to create the justice system facilities that will underpin the programs that we want," said Augerot, who said the goal was to provide "an equitable, efficient and effective system for everyone involved."

County officials say that once built, the north side location would be less expensive to operate due to its proximity to other county offices., with a potential $5-$7 million operational savings over 20 years.

Negotiations to purchase the land chosen by the commissioners is still underway, with the two parties "far apart" after seven months of negotiations, according to county staff. The county had a "letter of intent" to purchase the rejected site on the west side of Corvallis. Friday's decision means that agreement will be allowed to expire.

The current Benton County courthouse was built in 1888 and will be converted to other uses. The building is a fixture in downtown Corvallis, but the county says it's outdated and that it would be costly and difficult to upgrade the facility to modern standards. Community leaders are still deciding what will happen to the old courthouse, which will still be in use for several more years. A new courthouse isn't expected to open until at least 2025.

The county says the new justice system campus will be paid for with a combination of existing state and local funds. The county will also turn to voters to approve a bond measure to pay for part of the project, although portions of it can proceed even if the bond is rejected.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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