County: Downtown ruled out

Remodeling plans eliminate possibility of downtown justice center

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The new Routt County Justice Center will not be built downtown.

That's the message the Routt County Board of Commissioners sent Monday as commissioners discussed remodeling the Routt County Courthouse Annex and other downtown facilities.

The decision to build the new $15.5 million, 52,000-square-foot justice center just west of downtown was formally made by county commissioners in April 2003. Starting to remodel the courthouse annex and the old VNA building, as the 135 Sixth St. property is known, is in line with that 2003 decision, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

"We're making a statement that the justice center's not coming downtown," Monger said.

The work also shows that county commissioners are living up to their goal of moving ahead with projects, he said.

County commissioners will request proposals for architectural work for the initial remodel and hope to finish this phase of the remodel of the downtown campus by the end of this year.

The decision does not sit well with residents who want the county to reconsider building the new justice center downtown, particularly the Friends of the Justice Center.

That the county will not re-open the issue of where the new justice center should be built is "bad government," said Townsend Anderson, spokesman for the Friends of the Justice Center.

"What is unfortunate is that the county is refusing to listen to the city and to the parties in the city that will be most impacted by this decision," Anderson said.

County commissioners have said they think the public was given ample time to comment about where the new justice center should be built, through a series of public meetings.

The county is waiting for a final decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on whether 1.4 acres of wetlands can be filled at the proposed site adjacent to the county jail. The Army Corps has preliminarily denied the permit, but it should have a final decision in the coming month.

If the permit is denied, county commissioners will consider their options but said those options do not include building downtown.

The remodel of the old VNA building would allow the Human Services Department to move into that area, a change recommended by the county's space-needs study completed last summer.

The Emergency Management Services and the Building Maintenance and Purchasing Department would move into the first floor of the courthouse annex, followed eventually by the Environmental Health Department and the Routt County Coroner's Office, which have had to lease space downtown off the county's property.

A budget of $180,000 has been set aside to pay for all architectural fees for designing a remodel, Monger said. Only a portion of that will be used for the design of this first phase.

Between 1999 and 2002, Routt County spent $2.2 million to move forward on the downtown site, and between 2003 and 2004, the county spent about $1.7 million on the west site. Most of the money went for purchasing land, primarily two lots off Sixth Street. The county also had to condemn two lots.

That extra land downtown eventually could be used to expand county offices, Monger said. In the meantime, it could be used for various things, such as a park or open space.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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