Building shuffling under way

Justice center will be last piece

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Several Routt County employees have new office spaces, and additional staffers will be moving this week.

The shuffling is part of a long-term plan to consolidate county offices in two locations: the Routt County Courthouse buildings downtown and the future justice center west of Steamboat. The plan is intended to allow for departmental expansion and to eliminate the need for rented space.

Human Services employees are in the first stage of the changes, which included moving their offices from the courthouse annex to a building across the street. The building, a former multiuse office and storage space, offers a waiting area and more privacy for clients. The project also included street work, landscaping and an exterior facelift. The renovations are almost complete, and the building has been functioning well for staff and clients since the September move, Human Services Director Bob White said.

This week, accounting employees will move into their new offices in the basement of the annex building. Workers installed finishing touches including carpet last week.

Other relocations will take place after the justice center is constructed, County Manager Tom Sullivan said. The center, which will be next to the Routt County Sheriff's Office, will house courtrooms, judges chambers, the District Attorney's Office and Probation Services. Routt County commissioners will move their offices and hearing room into the courtroom space downtown.

When the District Attorney's Office is relocated from the courthouse annex, the county's Personnel, Emergency Management and Building Maintenance departments will take over the space. The Environmental Health department and the coroner also will move in, Sullivan said.

But when construction on the new justice center will begin is still unclear.

Construction has been stalled by a postponed bidding process, said Dan Strnad, the county's finance director. Only one qualified bidder attended the pre-bid conference this fall.

Four or five contractors were qualified, Sullivan said, but they likely did not attend the conference because they weren't sure when officials would move forward with the project.

Officials plan to put out bid specifications again in December, and they hope to open bids in January, Sullivan said. Plans are to begin construction in April 2006 and finish in August 2007; officials have been told the center will take about 18 months to build.

Uncertainty about the cost of the project is confounding the county's 2006 budget. Finance officials budgeted the construction at $15 million, Strnad said, but the rising cost of construction materials, energy and petroleum and interest rates could cause a significant project cost increase.

Construction of the justice center will be funded by a mechanism called certificates of participation, or COPs, which will not raise local taxes. Voters turned down a property tax increase to fund the center three years ago.

COPs are tax exempt, meaning the county will be able to get a lower interest rate. They are not considered to be a type of debt, and they are not the same as bonds because they are like a lease purchase agreement. Typically, a government entity will go to an investment-banking firm to obtain COPs. The firm then finds lenders who will receive certificates for their participation. The county will pay annual lease payments to the trustees/lessors for 20 years, which will allow the county to occupy the building.

County officials say they anticipate issuing $8 million in COPs in early 2006 to fund the project; the rest will come from reserves.

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