Routt County appears to have won the prolonged battle about where to build the new justice center.
Now that the location issue is finally -- and thankfully -- resolved, we have a request for the county: Reconsider the hastily developed plans for its existing campus. Long-term, we think more can be done with this important piece of downtown real estate.
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers said it likely would authorize a wetlands permit to build the justice center west of town next to the Routt County Jail. The county will have to purchase a 2.59-acre conservation easement in exchange for approval, but for all practical purposes, the deal is done.
That's a turn-around from what the Corps had indicated in December. Then, the Corps said it would turn down the county's wetlands application because the downtown site was a "practicable alternative" location. A month later, the county voted to begin work remodeling the downtown courthouse and the old VNA building at 135 Sixth St.
At the time, the county's decision seemed to be aimed more at eliminating the downtown site as a practicable alternative than at meeting some urgent need for more space. County Commissioner Doug Monger said as much after casting the January vote. "We're making a statement that the justice center's not coming downtown," Monger said.
The downtown remodel includes an overhaul of the VNA Building to create space for the county's Human Services Department, which is on the first floor of the courthouse annex building. The Environmental Health Department and the Routt County Coroner's Office, which have had to lease space downtown, also would move into the Human Services Building.
After Human Services has moved, the Emergency Management Services and the Building Maintenance and Purchasing departments will move into the first floor of the courthouse annex.
This initial phase of the remodel will cost $200,000. The next phases will include the remodeling of the courthouse and development of other surrounding properties at a cost estimated at more than $2 million. The courthouse remodel can't begin until the justice center is finished.
We don't doubt the county's need for additional office space for its various departments, but we question the value of remodeling the old VNA Building, a former funeral home. Now that the Corps is going to give the county its wetlands permit, there is no pressure to force through a plan that may not be the ideal use for the Sixth Street property.
The debate about where to build the justice center boiled down to the value of keeping the facility downtown compared with the cost to do so. Ultimately, those who thought the justice center was a vital piece of the downtown mix lost.
That said, we presume that the county commissioners also care about the vitality of the downtown area.
This is a chance for county commissioners to offer an olive branch of sorts. This is a chance to show that they are willing to forget the sometimes-bitter battle about the justice center. This is a chance to step back, talk with the public and consider how they might best use the downtown properties, not just for the county but also for the community.