County officials say the new courthouse project was proactive rather than reactive
The decision to renovate the former Kmart building into Moffat County’s new courthouse may have come up quickly for everyday citizens, but officials say it was a well-researched and proactive move for the county.
For two decades, the Moffat County courthouse has not met the needs of the public offices housed there, and it has failed to provide key safety measures for the courts. At the same time, county staff have been dealing with daily maintenance issues and paying high costs to keep the 105-year-old building functioning.
Through feasibility studies, county officials determined it would cost about $45 million to update the current courthouse, in addition to the cost of renting temporary space during the renovation to keep county offices operating.
The current courthouse at 221 W. Victory Way would need updates to its electrical, plumbing and sewer systems, along with extensive work to bring the dated building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Moffat County Development Services Director Roy Tipton said the costs for utilities on the current courthouse alone are over $100,000 annually.
Then a feasibility study identified the former Kmart building as a possible location for a new courthouse. Tipton explained that the Kmart building was big enough to fit all the county’s services under one roof, allowing the county to consolidate departments that are currently operating in rented or county buildings spread throughout Craig.
Built in 1992, the Kmart building is more modern and built to code. Also, the estimated cost for converting the former retail space into a courthouse was pegged at $23 million, and the county purchased the building for $2.25 million in 2020. The final project cost for the courthouse renovation at the new location rang in at $24 million, with an additional $2 million for the demolition of the existing courthouse.
“And we’re getting all of this done without having to raise taxes,” Moffat County Commissioner Tony Bohrer said.
Tipton said the project’s funding came together through a previous bond, settlement funding and congressional funding, and the county took on this project proactively, rather than reactively.
Tipton said that by taking the project into their own hands, county officials could exercise more control over costs, rather than if they had waited for an order from the 14th Judicial District to build a new courthouse regardless of the costs.
“That’s why the project was born,” Tipton said. “We could get it done within our means.”
Although the move will result in a large number of employees moving from the downtown area into the west commercial side of town, Bohrer noted that it will fill a large, vacant big-box retail building that would have been difficult for another retailer to occupy.
Bohrer wasn’t serving as a county commissioner when the Kmart building was purchased, but he said the former commissioners allowed enough time and would have backed out of the deal if another entity had expressed interest in the property.
The 100,000-square-foot building will allow all county offices and the courts to be housed together under one roof, and Tipton said the project aims to create efficiency for the public by consolidating county services into a single location. The renovation also should remedy the Americans with Disabilities Act and address security concerns that exist at the current courthouse.
The newer infrastructure should also be more efficient and cost effective for the county, shaving the utility budget by an estimated 70% with the help of a grant-funded solar farm to help offset electric expenses.
“We are citizens, too,” Tipton said. “We also pay taxes and we don’t want them to be wasted.”
The county pulled together funding to renovate the Kmart building through multiple sources.
Moffat County voters passed a bond in 1997 for the construction of the Public Safety Center in 2001. However, the bond was not limited for use with the Public Safety Center, as it also allowed for the county to acquire, construct, equip, furnish and maintain capital projects. With the notes paid off on the Public Safety Center, the county transferred funding from the bond to help pay for the new courthouse.
According to Tipton, funding also came from Anvil Point Settlement dollars, an environmental impact settlement that took years to pay out. Tipton said the last piece of the puzzle was the congressional funding that was awarded earlier this year.
Renovations for the new courthouse are still underway, and county officials are aiming to relocate public offices in early 2023.
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