Steamboat Springs The Routt County Commission is expected to hire an architectural firm today to begin a conceptual design of a new courthouse facility.
The 14th Judicial District administrator that oversees the entire court operations for Routt, Moffat and Grant counties summed up the Routt County Courthouse in two words:
"It's horrible," Evan Herman said.
"The county has a tremendous need for space and they're spending $50,000 a year renting office space."
Joint citizen and public committees have been studying and evaluating the problem since 1994.
But the county commissioners haven't asked the public yet to vote for a bond issue that would fund it.
"The county is trying to balance lots and lots of needs that are important to the county and they're trying to make limited funds cover lots of needs," Herman said.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said that is why the county has hired architectural firm HLM Design USA to help determine what a new facility might cost and where it will go.
"HLM will do a review of the (courthouse) study on the amount of space required and they'll do the conceptual design," Stahoviak said.
The first phase will cost about $80,000 and should be completed by May.
The firm will consider two sites for a new building and parking. The sites are the parking lot next to the courthouse annex or the old Visiting Nurse Association building on Sixth Street across from the old courthouse.
After HLM comes up with some estimates and the public has some input, the commissioners will then decide whether to try to put a bond issue on the November ballot to raise the money.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he was stunned how inadequate the old courthouse was. He found 10 employees in cubby holes in a room that was half the size of the commissioner's hearing room.
Monger said he also saw problems with security and other problems that could compromise confidential court records.
No one knows that better than the administrator overseeing the courthouse.
"We have one narrow hallway," said Herman, who described how defendants, witnesses, attorneys and jurors all come in close contact with each other with no privacy.
"It's the only way in and out," he said. Herman also said they often have three court proceedings scheduled with only two courtrooms.
"That means we often conduct court in a small conference room," Herman said, some of those being contentious divorce proceedings.
"I've been talking to people and no one has an idea what's going on in that courthouse," Monger said. "People are saying, 'Fat chance in hell I'll vote for that.'"
That's why Monger and Stahoviak believe the public needs to tour the facility themselves.
Meanwhile, Monger said an upcoming high-profile murder trial might attract public attention and the citizens will soon find out for themselves the crowded conditions at the courthouse. He pointed out that such close quarters could pose problems for any big court case.
"The jury has to walk through that hall and could come in contact with the defendant's family or friends," Monger said. "And one word from someone could spark a mistrial."