Architect selected for work on county justice center, courthouse

MEEKER I On Monday, the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners authorized County Project Coordinator Eric Jaquez to begin contract negotiations with the Denver-based firm of Reilly Johnson Architecture regarding design of the county justice center and remodel of the courthouse.
On Nov. 14, the selection team interviewed four architectural firms: DLR Group of Denver, Roth Sheppard/Humphreys Poli Architects of Denver, Phil Vaughn Construction Management Inc. of Rifle and Reilly Johnson Architecture of Denver. The top four candidates were selected from 10 architectural proposals the board received in late October.
Earlier in October, Rio Blanco County posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for architectural firms.
“Reilly Johnson’s proposal was very thorough; it was apparent they took time to learn about Rio Blanco County’s needs and community interests,” Commission Chairman Shawn Bolton said. “It is important to note, all four finalists observed that the WPA portion of the old elementary school is the most feasible and valuable to consider incorporating into a design.”
Bolton told the Herald Times on Monday evening that there still has been no decision on what facility will go where, but that the contract with Reilly Johnson will make that company responsible to the county to help work out what construction will occur where and to help sell whatever concept is eventually decided on to the public.
“This contract is not acceptance of any particular plans for specific building usage or location, but it means Reilly Johnson will work with us and help us figure out what is best for the community as a whole, Bolton said. “Locations and plans are not on the table at this point.”
Reilly Johnson specializes in the planning, programming and design of justice architecture. The company’s resume includes construction of courtrooms, district attorney’s offices, probation services, adult and juvenile detention centers and sheriff’s facilities. The firm has 32-years of experience, including working in rural communities and mountain towns throughout Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.
Members of the public in attendance for the interviews with the architects perked up each time the architects were asked about the old elementary school. Each of the architects said they understood the conflicts between tearing down the old school and utilizing the building for county offices or a justice center.
Phil Vaughn of Phil Vaughn Construction Management Inc. of Rifle pretty well summed up the architects’ feelings.
“You absolutely need to do a complete cost analysis of everything you are looking at — the courthouse, the justice center and the school, then you need a list of the benefits and detractions on all three projects,” he said.
“You need to remove the personal feeling of all groups and figure all the pros and cons along with the cost analyses,” Vaughn said. “Regardless of what you do, some will be happy and some will be angry. But you have to make the decisions based on the pros, cons and costs and leave all of the private feelings of the various groups out of it.”
He also said it was highly important to understand what it is the overall public wants to do and that listening to any one group is not the way to go.
“You need public hearings and need to figure out some way to find out what it is that a majority of the people want,” Vaughn said.
Bolton said Monday evening that he would expect the public hearings will be held in the early spring.
Of the four conceptual designs presented by Reilly Johnson, three included incorporating the WPA section (built in 1939) of the old Meeker Elementary School into the justice center facility design. All designs included a single-level structure.
“Reilly Johnson understands our objectives to bring the sheriff’s offices, judges’ chambers, district courts and detention center into compliance with current state regulations,” Commissioner Jon Hill said. “At the same time, they understand the need to create economic traffic in the downtown area and the value of preserving the history of the old Meeker Elementary School.”
In early December, Reilly Johnson will meet with the courts, sheriff’s staff and other users of the building to gain a full understanding of current and future needs. Based on spacing needs, a project budget will be estimated.
The final design recommendation will be a balance of needs and budget, Bolton said, and the design and development phase should take approximately six months to complete.
“We expect to have the design phase completed this coming spring and to begin construction late summer of 2014,” Jaquez said.
“A justice center is an important community building, and should reflect the dignity of our justice system,” Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said. “However, the building must complement, not overshadow, Meeker’s existing downtown buildings. Reilly Johnson understands this, and we are excited to have them on the project.”