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Law center leads major county revamps

"Like the people who work in law enforcement and the court system, the new Island County Law and Justice Center itself seems a little suspicious, a little paranoid.Call it high security in action. Everyone who walks in the door will go through a magnetometer while briefcases and purses are X-rayed. Around every corner, wall-mounted video cameras watch with electronic eyes. The jury rooms and judges' chambers have bullet-proof windows. The court rooms have video cameras, audio-recording devices and bullet-proof furniture. Panic alarms are within easy reach all over the 29,000-square-foot building. The building's architect, Brian Young of Anacortes, designed the Coupeville building at 6th and Center streets with distinct separations between public and departmental spaces. A state-of-the art security system guards that separation, using a card-entry system that keeps track of who and when people enter through secure doors.A skybridge to the county jail, a basement sally port and a secure elevator were all built so law enforcement officers can safely bring prisoners to and from the building.But that isn't to say the $5 million building doesn't have a welcoming feel. The carefully-designed exterior, the smell of new carpet and paint, the crisp green and white interior with maple laminate - together with the security measures - creates a safe, but comfortable atmosphere.I'm tickled by the way in turned out, said Larry Kwarsick, county public works director. The county departments are in the process of moving into the building. But the grand opening May 29 won't be the end of construction for the county. It's won't even be the beginning of the end.Kwarsick said the county commissioners recently awarded a $2 million contract to Hansen Brothers Construction of Mount Vernon to remodel the courthouse on 6th Street. With fixes that include a new heating and ventilation system, Kwarsick said the courthouse will be a new building for all intents and purposes when the project is completed. He says it should be done by the end of the year.After that, the courthouse annex will get a face lift. Kwarsick said the dark, recessed windows will be brought out and brick will be added to aesthetically connect the three county buildings together and create a campus of buildings. The building's main entrance will also be moved so it faces the new law and justice building. An area will be created for Juvenile and Family Court Services. The annex project is scheduled to be completed in spring 2002.Next the long-awaited juvenile detention facility will be added on to the county jail, in the rear of the annex building. County voters approved a $500,000-a-year sales tax hike in 1998 to building the $1.5 million facility and run it afterward. But Kwarsick said the project has been put off until 2003 because Coupeville needs to upgrade its sewer system to handle the added capacity.Once the detention facility is completed, Kwarsick says the county will turn its attention to landscaping the entire campus area. That will include a new veterans' memorial at the center and a new park.Also, the old jail building will be demolished to make room for a new parking lot.The reason for all the projects, Kwarsick said, is that county employees have been working in very cramped spaces for much too long. While not all the law and justice-related departments have increased space in the new building, Kwarsick said the new working space is more efficiently designed.But there are critics. An official in one of the departments, for example, complained that space is even more cramped and impractical in the new building.The departments that will be located in the new building include the Superior Court, court clerk, prosecutor, public defender, guardian ad litem, the Sheriff's Office and the Washington State University-Island County Cooperative Extension office.Right now we're just doing the finishing touches inside, Kwarsick said. Everyone seems excited to move in.You can reach staff reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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