Perhaps it's fitting that it took a failed ballot initiative, a court order, a reversal of that court order, two years of public debate, a decision by a federal agency and a dismissed lawsuit to build the new Routt County Justice Center - where similar legal battles will be fought long into the future.
It was a messy process, but after five years of controversy, what remains is an impressive facility that will house our courts and court-related offices and services. It's a facility that should be celebrated.
The public will get its first chance to tour the 52,000-square-foot building during a grand opening ceremony from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. today. What the community will find are state-of-the-art courtrooms; judges chambers, jury deliberation rooms and new offices for court administrators, clerks and the District Attorney's Office; a beautiful, naturally lit entrance; and 150 solar panels that will produce 37,880 kilowatts of electricity annually. And, of course, there's the tunnel that will ferry prisoners from the adjacent Routt County Jail to the Justice Center.
There is no doubt Routt County needed a new building for its courts. But the process by which we arrived at today's grand opening is worth revisiting.
- November 2002 - Routt County voters rejected a $17.2 million ballot issue to build a justice center and parking garage in downtown Steamboat. County commissioners spent $2.2 million on land purchases and architectural designs for the downtown site.
- December 2002 - Routt County Judge Richard Doucette ordered county officials to construct a new justice center by Sept. 1, 2006. The Colorado Court of Appeals later overturned the order.
- 2003 - County hosted public meetings to discuss possible justice center locations. Two years of debate ensued, with the Steamboat Springs City Council and a group called Friends of the Justice Center advocating for a downtown site. Commissioners supported a site west of town, adjacent to the Sheriff's Office.
- July 2003 - County commissioners vote unanimously to pay for justice center with reserves and certificates of participation, meaning taxpayers fund it without having to approve it through a vote.
- August 2004 - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a preliminary decision denying the county's application for a wetlands permit, which was needed to construct justice center at west Steamboat site.
- August 2004 - Commissioners prepared three additional studies, at a cost of $15,000, in an attempt to sway the Army Corps' decision.
- May 2005 - Army Corps reversed preliminary decision and authorized construction at the west Steamboat site.
- June 2005 - A lawsuit filed by Towny Anderson challenged the wetlands permit decision and was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge.
- April 2006 - Excavation and construction work began.
We disapproved of some of the actions taken by the county commissioners to build the Justice Center in west Steamboat, particularly their secretive approach to dealing with the Army Corps of Engineers and their decision to take the public out of the process - while still making them pay for it - by funding the facility with certificates of participation.
But all of that is now water under the tunnel, so to speak. In the end, the final product is a gem. We think the new Routt County Justice Center is a
landmark building that should be applauded.