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RBC I The Rio Blanco County commissioners gave architect Jim Lichty until April 22 to come up with cost comparisons on building a new justice center on county courthouse property in Meeker versus building a new justice center at an alternate location.
The commissioners and other top county officials gathered Monday afternoon for a work session in Meeker to address a two-pronged problem that has been festering for years. The commissioners must decide what to do to bring the courthouse into federal and state safety and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and whether or not the courthouse will be expanded to hold the proposed justice center or to build the new justice center at another site.
County commission chairman Shawn Bolton, meanwhile, urged quick action before outside government agencies begin to dictate to the county what needs to be done to bring the courthouse into compliance.
The problems surfaced in 2005, when eight problems were cited with the courthouse: insufficient parking; unsafe inmate movement; ADA non-compliance; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) issues; justice center development; and three phases of remodeling.
When the proposed $15 million project is complete, the county wants a courthouse to house all county offices except those tied to the justice system – the jail, the court system and the county attorney/county defender offices – and the justice center.
Coincidentally, the county board at its regular meeting Monday morning voted unanimously to deny all submitted bids for the proposed geothermal HVAC system at the courthouse because the bids were at least 44 percent over the proposed budget.
The site for the justice center appeared on its way to selection when Bolton asked Commissioner Jon Hill of Rangely if he was in favor of going with the courthouse site. Before he could give a committed yes or no, Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said he could not agree to the courthouse site without seeing a price comparison between the courthouse site and an off-site location.
Discussion of the off-site location centered on the Berry family property east of town near the airport and located close to the site chosen for the new Pioneers Medical Center. There were several pluses and minuses offered including the cost of infrastructure needed for the new site versus cost savings if the hospital could provide services to the justice center, including preparing meals for the inmates.
The entire project will cost roughly $15 million for remodeling the courthouse and building the justice center. The current courthouse is roughly 25,000 square feet and its renovation is expected to run $5 million to $6 million while the justice center, proposed at roughly 50,000 square feet, would cost $9 million to $10 million.
Architect Lichty assured the commissioners he will have the cost comparisons to present at a workshop on April 22. He said that under the best-case scenario, the board would choose a location, then it would take five to six months to complete a construction document and then another six or seven months to begin construction – possibly by summer 2014.
Bolton also said he would like the board to make some kind of decision following the April 22 workshop on how to proceed with the county courthouse — to begin with the project before federal and state officials step in or whether to begin doing extensive repairs.
Lichty said he believes it would be cost effective to remodel the courthouse after the sheriff’s office and the justice center are out of the courthouse.