Steamboat Springs For 14 years, Mickey Miller's task was to keep order in the courtroom.
But space constraints and congested court dockets often forced Miller, a bailiff who retired four years ago from the Routt County Combined Court, to do her job outside the courtroom.
She remembers when lack of space demanded the Steamboat Springs Airport host a trial.
"The jury deliberated in the baggage area," Miller said.
Jury selection has been conducted in the movie theater under her watch. Judges have presided over divorce proceedings at Olympian Hall.
The former court employee compares crowded courtroom conditions to a school that has outgrown its building.
"We are like a school designed for 200 students but 500 attend," Miller said.
The only difference, local attorney Bob Weiss said, is that crowded classrooms in Routt County, unlike crowded courtrooms, have been addressed with new school buildings.
Weiss co-chairs a local interest group committed to raising awareness about the need for a new court facility.
Routt Citizens for Safe Courts hopes voters approve a $17.2 million court facility project this November, so stories like Miller's are left in the past.
The county is asking taxpayers to support construction of a $12.8 million, 52,000-square-foot building, $2.9 million parking garage and a $1.5 million land purchase.
A new judicial facility is long overdue, said Weiss, who 10 years ago chaired the original committee that first looked at the inadequacies of the 80-year-old courthouse.
Routt County has grown since the original courthouse was built in 1923, but its courtrooms have not.
The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Steamboat Springs filed about 4,600 civil and criminal cases in 2001 compared to 216 in 1923.
"We just can't stay in a facility that was created in 1923," Routt County Judge James Garrecht said.
Garrecht, who moved to Steamboat Springs 22 years ago to serve as deputy district attorney, considers himself a longtime proponent of a new court facility.
He can recall several occasions in and out of the courtroom when he feared for the safety of jury members, witnesses and victims.
The narrow hallway that separates the 14th Judicial District Courtroom and the Routt County Courtroom maintains a daily steady flow of human traffic.
Nothing prevents defendants in the custody of the Routt County Sheriff's Office from passing witnesses, jury members, victims or attorneys in the hallways on their way to the courtrooms.
Defense attorneys have no other place to go but the hallway to discuss cases with their clients during a jury trial.
"We needed the (new) facility back in 1980," Garrecht said. "The community is growing."
Routt County is not the only community dealing with growing pains, he said. Other counties in Colorado also need new court facilities.
Routt County's neighbor to the west does not struggle with crowded courtrooms. "We have quite the opposite," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said. "We have space."
State standards mandate that any courthouse in the state with three judges provide at least 33,200 square feet.
The current court facility houses two district court judges and one county judge in 11,200 square feet.
As many as four courtrooms have been needed at one time, but only two courtrooms exist. Court employee numbers have grown while their workplace has not.
Those spatial factors compound the need for a new judicial facility, county court administrator Evan Herman said.
"We don't have all the things you need in order to make the system work properly," he said. "It makes for a very unsafe facility."
He urged those who question the need to finance something they may not use every day to consider the many circumstances that might bring them to the courthouse whether it be for jury duty, to testify in a trial or to pay a traffic ticket.
"A judicial facility is in the best interest of everyone," Herman said. "It is an essential part of our democratic form of government."
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak hopes voters keep in mind how critical a new facility is when they cast their ballot.
Now is the time for so many years of planning to come to fruition, she said.
"It has to be built," Stahoviak said. "Our judges have waited long enough for a new facility."
If the bond issue passes, the county would use some of its reserves to pick up $6.2 million of the project costs. Taxpayers would foot the remaining $11 million.
The county's contribution amounts to about a third of its reserves, a sign, of its commitment to the project, Stahoviak said.
Reserve money slated for such long-term projects as road and bridge improvements has been re-directed toward construction of the new judicial facility.
The county decided to delay some of its projects and commit that money to the project to help alleviate the tax burden.
The bond issue calls for a 1.3 mill property tax increase for 20 years. Taxpayers could expect to pay an additional $12 for every $100,000 of residential property and an additional $38 for every $100,000 of commercial property.
If taxpayers are unwilling to go along with the bond issue, the County Board of Commissioners must pursue other options
"That's going to be a hard discussion," Stahoviak said.
Supporters of the $17.2 project said they have encountered little opposition to the concept of a new court facility.
Concerns do exist about the building's appearance.
The Historic Preservation Advisory Commission for the city of Steamboat Springs finds some fault with the proposed structure's design and size.
Laureen Schaffer, who staffs the commission, said members support the facility's downtown location to prevent urban sprawl and maintain a major government institution within the business core.
The county is proposing to build the 52,000-square-foot building at the southwest corner of Oak and Sixth streets. The parking structure would sit behind the original courthouse and annex and hold 127 vehicles.
But the advisory commission finds the building's appearance too abrasive.
Schaffer said the commissioners feel the building's 45-degree orientation to traditionally parallel and perpendicular building patterns, height and wide, expansive windows do not mesh with downtown Steamboat's character.
Schaffer said the advisory commission was willing to work with the county to find a more agreeable design.
"It's not really opposition," she said. "It's more converting to something more in keeping with the character of (downtown). They're not unachievable goals."
Local resident Stuart Orzach said it doesn't make sense to build a parking structure downtown when the Stockbridge Multi-Modal Center was constructed to encourage motorists to park away from the downtown area to ease traffic.
"This runs counter to the direction we need to move in," Orzach said.
Supporters of the new judicial facility say the planned design complements the look of the current courthouse. The attractiveness of the proposed structure should not be mistaken for frivolity at the taxpayers' expense, said Ben Beall, who co-chairs Routt Citizens for Safe Courts with Weiss.
"Just because it looks so good, it's not that expensive a building," he said.
Beall knows he can't assume every voter feels the same way.
"We are certainly not taking anything for granted," Weiss said.
That's why volunteers have been ringing doorbells in Hayden and Steamboat Springs, hosting ice cream socials at area homecomings and giving presentations to local businesses. They head to South Routt this week with their message.
"It's not so much a question of persuasion as it is education," Weiss said. "If (voters) understand, they will be favorably inclined to it."
Beall and Weiss stress their efforts are not a fly-by-night push for votes. The path to getting the issue on the ballot has taken 10 years.
"This hasn't been done in a vacuum," Beall said.
Supporters know the obstacle to a favorable outcome on Nov. 5 is not so much convincing people of the need for a new courthouse facility as voters' willingness to subsidize the project.
When Weiss first came to Steamboat in 1979, he worked as the deputy district attorney in the courthouse basement, where the Routt County Sheriff's Office and county jail were also located.
In time, the Sheriff's Office and jail moved out of the courthouse, as well as other departments that outgrew their office space.
But the courtrooms have never moved from the third floor of the courthouse, Weiss said.
New schools and hospitals have replaced crowded facilities, he said.
It only makes sense, he added, that courts have the opportunity to expand to keep up with demand.
"It's due," Beall said.