County has sights on justice center plan; school plans on hold

RBC I The Rio Blanco County Commissioners are beginning the journey of constructing a new justice center and renovating the old courthouse.
“The commissioners are seeking a firm that will review the past studies concerning the judicial and detention center needs as well as consider current needs and the economic climate,” board chairman Shawn Bolton said. “We expect to have a recommended design that will address the county’s and community’s needs in an affordable fashion.”
In early October, Rio Blanco County posted a request for proposals (RFP) from architectural firms. Proposals were due on Monday of this week, and the interested firms were requested to submit proposals that consider the following four criteria:
1. To develop a plan that will bring the sheriff’s offices, judges’ chambers, district courts and detention center into compliance with the American Disabilities Act as well as current state regulations;
2. To create an environment for the downtown square of Meeker that will encourage economic traffic, maintain and enhance a public gathering area (e.g. concerts on Fourth of July, etc.), and include public restrooms and adequate parking;
3. To design an architecture that fits the flavor of the current downtown buildings; and
4. To take into consideration the historical value and explore the possible repurposing of the old Meeker Elementary School Building.
“This project is a critical one for our county,” Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said. “The goal is to improve the current facilities that serve our law enforcement sector. The needs-assessment study conducted in 2005 identified many deficiencies in the building that must be addressed for public safety.”
Over the years, several ideas have been discussed, but nothing has ever been decided. The commissioners are seeking a new design solution for the problems facing the county.
The architectural firm selected will meet with county departments, law enforcement and judicial officials to determine the needs, the commissioners said, adding that public input will be sought during public town hall meetings.
“We received 10 proposals on Monday morning, said county Project Coordinator Eric Jaquez. “We expect to have a firm selected and working early in January.
“The design and development phase takes approximately six months,” he said. “At the end of that phase, we will be able to develop an estimated budget and project timeline. We are taking the first step.”
The courthouse was built in 1935. It has had minimal improvements since then and is experiencing infrastructure failure.
The current law enforcement, courtroom and detention center do not meet the requirements of the American Disabilities Act. Equally important is the need to improve safety throughout.
The current building cannot respond to fluctuating needs. With the ebb and flow of Rio Blanco County’s population, the detention center needs to be able to handle detainees during a population “boom.”
For example, during energy industry “booms, law enforcement needs rise, and we have significantly more detainees, Commissioner Jon Hill said.
“We have to design a building that will serve the long-term needs of the community and take into account, the ‘boom and bust’ cycles we have historically experienced,” he said.
An additional benefit of this project is to centralize as many county services into one area as possible, the board members agreed.
“We want the county services to be more accessible to the public,” Eskelson said. “This project would improve efficiencies for the county services based in Meeker. We also believe this will encourage traffic around the town square.”
There has been much publicity and speculation surrounding the current courthouse and old elementary school.
The commissioners said they will not make any decisions about architectural design and historic restorations until they have received a completed needs study and final design.