Justice center could top $15M

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The new Routt County justice center could cost about $15.5 million, according to a preliminary cost estimate presented Tuesday at an open house.

That figure includes about $1.1 million in contingency costs, so it could dip to just more than $14 million, the high end county officials originally predicted. The county will use certificates of obligation to finance the plan. Voter approval is not needed.

In 2002, commissioners asked voters to fund a $17.2 million plan to construct a new justice center downtown. That plan was defeated.

Whether the county should build the 50,000-square-foot justice center downtown or west of town near the county jail was again a topic of conversation at the open house.

Steamboat Springs resident Jim Marek said he was happy with the decision to build the center west of town because it made sense for financial and practical reasons to have it next to the county jail. He said he thought commissioners put in a lot of effort to take public comment and consider public suggestions.

"I think they're finally using an approach where they're taking the concerns of the citizens regarding cost," Marek said.

Stuart Orzach, however, said he felt the county should have kept the center in downtown Steamboat Springs. Orzach participated in discussions last winter with county commissioners after the 2002 ballot issue asking voters to help fund construction of a justice center downtown failed.

One deciding factor in moving the center outside of town was that it could lower costs, but the main cost difference in the plans at the new site was the $2.9 million parking structure the county would have had to build downtown, he said.

The Steamboat Springs City Council sent a second letter to Routt County commissioners last week urging commissioners to reconsider the decision to build the justice center west of town. Despite the letter, commissioners have said they plan to move forward with the development of the five-acre parcel south of Routt County Jail along Shield Drive.

Several county employees, along with Routt County commissioners Doug Monger and Dan Ellison, were on hand Tuesday to talk about the plans.

Ellison said that though he initially voted for the justice center to stay downtown and does not regret his decision, he is happy with the direction the plans for the justice center are taking.

"I think our architects have paid attention ... and (are) giving us a project that we can be proud of for years and years and will last for years and years," he said.

Bobbi Hodge, who said she went door to door to campaign against the building of a new justice center, said she likes the simple look of the courthouse that was presented at the open house but thought it was going to cost "way too much money."

"But what choice do we have?" she said, referring to the court order that says the county must build a new justice facility by Sept. 1, 2006. "I understand. I just wish we didn't have to build it."

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