Meetings on justice center set

MEEKER I In 2013, the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners launched the Justice Center Project with the their stated objective of improving current facilities that serve our citizens, county and district law enforcement and to improve efficiencies for county services based in Meeker.
In December, Reilly Johnson Architecture of Denver was hired to complete the planning, programming and design of the project’s architectural features. They were instructed to consider four major criteria in their design:
1) Develop a plan that will bring the sheriff’s offices, judges’ chambers, district and county courts and the detention center into compliance with the American Disabilities Act and current state regulations; 2) Create an environment for the historical downtown square of Meeker that will encourage economic traffic while maintaining and enhancing a public gathering area that can be utilized for various events, including concerts, community celebrations and more; 3) Produce an architectural design that fits the flavor of the current downtown buildings; 4) Take into consideration the historical value of, and explore possibly repurposing the old Meeker Elementary School building.
Currently, Reilly Johnson is meeting with employees of the courts, sheriff’s office and other users of the building to gain a full understanding of current and future needs.
This information is being utilized in the development of a conceptual design that reflects the four criteria mentioned above, square footage needs, public comment collected throughout 2013, and the project budget. The conceptual design recommendation to the commissioners will be a balance of needs and budget.
To learn more, join the Rio Blanco County commissioners for public informational meetings. The board will host a meeting in Rangely at 6 p.m. on March 11 at the Weiss Conference Room at CNCC.A second meeting will be held in Meeker at 6 p.m. on March 12 at the Fairfield Center. Additional information can be found online by visiting www.co.rio-blanco.co.us/information/justicecenter.
Why does Rio Blanco County need major upgrades to the courthouse and county service offices?
The courthouse was built in 1935 and has had minimal improvements since. Unfortunately, the building is experiencing infrastructure failure and repairs must be made to allow for complete building functionality and safety.
The current law enforcement facilities, courtroom and detention center do not meet requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act and are not in compliance with existing state regulations. Equally important is the need to improve safety throughout — safety for area residents, county employees and detainees.
Has public comment been incorporated into the plans for the center?
Yes. There were several significant concerns and/or suggestions made by community members that have been considered in the development. The county has set its sights to, where feasible, preserve the historical value of the old elementary school.
The four key criteria identified by the commissioners concerning project design take into consideration the historical value of this building and explore the possible repurposing of the old Meeker Elementary School building. Currently, one draft conceptual design includes incorporating the 1939 WPA section of the old school into the facility design.
The county also could use the old elementary school for economic development purposes and recruit a business to fill it. The commissioners are committed to economic development with the mission of increasing primary jobs throughout the county. They feel the most effective way to address economic development is to dedicate a staff position to develop a strategic approach to furthering community development, expanding sustainable business opportunities and bringing job creation to the county.
Having foot traffic in the downtown is important. The commissioners have directed the architect to develop not just a building, but to create an environment capable of hosting community gatherings and events conducive to creating increased opportunities for foot traffic.
Why does the courthouse have to be in Meeker?
By state statute, Meeker is designated as the county seat. Changing the county seat designation and relocating courts, law enforcement offices and the detention center to Rangely would require a costly and time-consuming legal process;
It is also important that the building “fits” Meeker and not be an overbuilt “Taj Mahal.” Reilly Johnson has been instructed to design a building that is functional and fits with the existing character of the downtown buildings and their style, thus, adding to the overall aesthetic appeal of the downtown square.
The commissioners also will be considerate of taxpayer money and make the project affordable. The commissioners are able to fund this project through existing revenues as a result of years of conservative budgeting.