Commissioners consider old school for courthouse

By Jim Haug
Journal Staff Writer

Because no one likes going to court, finding the right courtroom should be the least of someone’s worries, but people showing up at the wrong courthouse seems to be an everyday occurrence in Cortez.

The problem is that there are separate locations for county court at Mildred Road and Empire Street and district court at 109 E. Main St.

To clear up confusion and accommodate a growing case load, officials are now considering options on how to consolidate county and district court in the same building, which has become the norm for about every county in Colorado, said Eric Hogue, the court administrator for the 22nd Judicial District, which covers Montezuma and Dolores counties.

A Denver-based architect has been hired. County c ommissioners Steve Chappell and Keenan Ertell emphasize that they’re only in the discussion stage, but two options seem to be at the top of the docket as far as courthouse solutions.

One is to convert the current Montezuma-Cortez High School into the consolidated courthouse after the high school moves into its new building in about two years. The other idea is to build a new courthouse on county-owned land just east of the jail.

Both options seem to have their pluses and minuses, as well as their supporters and detractors.

County Commission Chairman Chappell did not think voters would support raising taxes to fund a new building, so he supports rehabilitating the high school into a courthouse to take advantage of existing space, but noted that the county has not discussed this idea with the school board yet.

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell stipulated that it will be up the county commissioners to decide on a new courthouse, but when asked for his opinion, he said a “revamp” would be a bad idea, essentially putting on a Band-Aid® when a real solution is needed.

“I think we need a courthouse. It’s time. It’s not working the way it is,” Spruell said.

“It takes up a lot energy for transports back and forth (between the jail and the courthouse),” the sheriff explained.

He thought providing security for a modern courthouse would be easier than for an older building that originally had a different purpose.

Spruell said he thought building a new courthouse might be cheaper. Officials declined to give cost estimates because the discussion is still preliminary.

Hogue, the court administrator, also pointed that the high school is already 50 years old and has asbestos and mercury contamination issues. To convert the building might only be a temporary solution.

He also appreciated that a having a new courthouse alongside the jail would be handy for the transportation of defendants and lessen demands on the sheriff’s department, predicting “enormous cost savings.”

The jail is relatively new, about 10 years old, Hogue said.

Hogue also suggested that giving the county court space in the current justice building to the city of Cortez would help city with consolidating its own offices in the neighborhood of Mildred Road because the police station is close by.

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