King County plans to relocate the sheriff’s office, courthouse and other regional services to a little-used building in Vashon town owned by Vashon Island Fire & Rescue.
If approved by the King County Council, the county would remodel the former Firemen’s Association building across the street from VIFR’s main station, transforming it into a multipurpose rural service center with room for emergency response exercises and community meetings. The building would also serve as an operations center during an actual disaster.
The move, county officials say, would save money, consolidate services and better serve Islanders. Under the proposal, the county would spend around $700,000 to wholly makeover the 2,600-square-foot building, turning it into a courthouse and satellite sheriff’s office that VIFR or community groups could use as well. The fire department, in turn, would not charge the county rent for the first five years; after that, the rent would be below market.
Currently, the county and sheriff’s office rent space at Courthouse Square, a complex owned by Vashon businessman Tom Bangasser about a mile south of town.
George Brown, VIFR’s assistant fire chief, said the partnership would serve the fire department well. The building was donated to the agency three years ago when the Firemen’s Association, a holdover from the days when Vashon had an all-volunteer department, folded. Since then, VIFR officials have used the structure for occasional drills and long-term storage, Brown said. But it largely sits empty, and VIFR has wanted to find another use for it, he said.
The county approached VIFR last year, and for the last six months, the two governments have been in conversation and negotiations, Brown said. The five-member commission recently directed Brown to pursue a contract with the county; the proposal, now that it’s been drafted, will go before the commissioners for approval, Brown said.
“We feel this is a win-win,” Brown said. “We like having the community’s needs right here, centrally located. We also like having the sheriff’s department close to us.”
Rex Stratton, a commissioner, said he, too, supports the arrangement.
“I think we are all quite pleased with the opportunity to have that building put to productive use and particularly to have the county there,” he said.
The courthouse, open one day a month when a District Court judge comes to Vashon, has been located at Courthouse Square since the 3,200-square-foot building was constructed in 1973. Bangasser purchased the building in 1999. In 2005, he said in an email to The Beachcomber, he spent more than $100,000 completely remodeling the building so that it would better serve the county.
Bangasser said he offered to sell the building to the county, noting, in his email, that he made “a very, very good offer reflecting our commitment to the values of this community. … It was a very good deal for the county.”
What’s more, he added, the county is the logical tenant for Courthouse Square. “It was built specifically for the King County sheriff and the District Court,” he said in his email.
But county officials said that it made more sense to relocate. The county currently pays $2,376 a month to use Courthouse Square; with utilities, its monthly costs are around $3,020, according to Cameron Satterfield, a spokesperson for the county. What’s more, he said, Courthouse Square needs a lot of repairs, including a new roof and remodeling to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“After reviewing the costs associated with purchasing the Courthouse Square building, completing the needed renovations and ongoing ownership costs, it was clear that pursuing a partnership with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue to use their building would be a more cost-effective option,” Satterfield said in an email.
If the contract is approved by the county council and VIFR, the county will begin working on the Firemen’s Association building right away, with a possible move-in date in about a year.