County considers relocating courts
Montezuma County and the 22nd Judicial District courts are trying to negotiate the best way forward for a temporary remodel of the county courthouse, with an eventual goal of a new justice center.
To free up space, the county relocated the assessor, treasurer and clerk/recorder office to a recently acquired county annex building on Main Street in Cortez, formerly First National Bank.
Consolidating the county and district courts and the probation department into the central county building is a main goal.
“It is confusing for the public the way it is set up now,” said Eric Hogue, court administrator. “They come to district court, then have to go to county court and then get kicked back to district.”
A preliminary proposal has county court offices moving into the old county clerk’s and treasurer’s offices on the first floor, probation moving up to the old assessor’s office on the third floor with some offices on the second floor, and installation of a new elevator for the public and staff.
The building where county court is currently located on Mildred St. is being considered for use by the City of Cortez to consolidate its services next door to the Cortez Police Department in Centennial Park.
According to a letter from Tom Franklin, a planner with the office of the state court administrator, “It is our initial finding that consolidation of the two Montezuma courthouses into a single address at the W. Main Street location is feasible. With proper reconfiguration and consolidation, the available vacated spaces can suffice to accommodate the needs of the courts and probation.”
Hogue said that the county court and probation offices now are cramped for space, and the move will actually reduce their overall work area in an atmosphere of increased case loads.
“They’re working out of closet offices as it is, so it will be a challenge,” he said. “We are seeking commitment from the county that this is a temporary solution.”
District Court Chief Judge Doug Walker said the county building will be maxed out during the temporary relocation.
“It will be noticeably more crowded with the county court proceedings, probation clients, and all the staff and extra public,” he said.
Some of the challenges will be limited public and employee bathrooms — in one case one for 17 department staffers— as well logistical challenges for transporting prisoners up an elevator also used by the public, security apparatus for probation clients, and the disruption of remodeling.
Costs have not been determined, and the project will be put out to a public bid. It may be financed by a bond.
The court administrator’s office emphasized that the court consolidation is designed to be a temporary fix, perhaps for two years.
“To keep temporary costs minimal, the court will tolerate sub-guideline space conditions and limited amenities with the understanding that there will be a commitment and timetable to a permanent justice facility solution.”
Aging government infrastructure is a widespread problem, and a long-term solution is needed, Hogue said.
“In Gunnison, the courts have relocated temporarily into a church for 18 months while a brand new justice center is constructed,” he said.
During the presentation, the county commissioners’ proclivity towards common-sense solutions triggered a brainstorming session.
“What about the county annex,” asked commissioner Keenan Ertel. “That is a lot of unused space there that could maybe house the probation department.”
Using the old high school for court services after the new one is built was also considered. But it did not get much support because of the building’s age.
“A new justice center with a 50 year lifespan is more economical than spending $6 million to remodel the high school and have it last 7-10 years,” Hogue said.
Said Walker, “A new justice center doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal. Determining what the county can afford and then going to an architect to make it work is a long-term solution worth considering. Interests rates are good right now, but the window is closing. Refurbishing this building, you will spend as much as a new facility.”
No decisions were made at the meeting, and the topic will be revisited again soon.