Inside the Moffat County Courthouse demolition
Many community members have expressed concerns the demolition of the Moffat County Courthouse will remove a piece of Craig’s history.
However, the decision to demolish the current courthouse was one that county officials said was not taken lightly. Because of dated infrastructure and a series of remodels over the past 90 years, county officials have determined the building is beyond salvage.
“This was well thought out, not only by me, also by previous commissioners, current commissioners, and consultants,” said Moffat County Director of Development Services Roy Tipton.
Several studies were conducted to explore options and determine costs for renovating and expanding the current courthouse to meet the needs of the county and the 14th Judicial District.
The cost for renovation and infrastructure updates to bring the building up to code was estimated at $45 million. That estimate does not include expenses for temporarily relocating county offices and courts that would need to be in operation during the remodel.
With the needs of the 105-year-old building and renovation costs, the previously seated Moffat County commissioners decided to purchase the former Kmart building and renovate it. The project will bring the courts and all of the county offices under one roof.
County officials were able to fund the renovation of the Kmart building using an existing bond for capital projects, Anvil Points settlement funds, and congressional funding. The overall project cost to purchase and renovate the Kmart building was $24 million, just over half the estimated cost to restore the old courthouse building at 211 W. Victory Way.
In June, county officials proposed the plan to demolish the current courthouse once county offices are relocated to the new site, and the plan for demolition was approved by commissioners in August.
There have been groups who advocated for the preservation of the old courthouse, but Moffat County Commissioner Tony Bohrer said that after they toured the building, they were in favor of tearing it down.
“The old-school mentality is that everything has a lifespan,” said Bohrer. “If we could save this building, I would be all for saving it.”
Past its useful life
The Moffat County Courthouse was built in 1917 as a white stone brick building with columns surrounding the entrance. According to Tipton, the entryway columns were removed in 1932 because they were starting to crumble and additions were added on the sides of the building.
There were more renovations and additions in 1962 and in the 1980s, when the current entrance was built. The rear of the building still contains some of the original quarried brick from 1917.
The interior of the building has original jail calls in the basement and living quarters on the top floor that were used by sheriff’s officers. These areas of the building were never remodeled, and Tipton said they would be difficult to repurpose.
The basement jail was constructed with metal walls that can’t be retrofitted with internet or phones for use as office space, so they sit vacant as storage. And there is known asbestos in the third floor living quarters, as well as other areas in the building.
During a previous remodel, the middle section of the top floor was removed in order to add support beams for a raised ceiling on the third floor courts. This dissection of the building leaves the top floor mostly empty.
While county offices and the courts are running out of space for operations, Tipton said that of the 53,000 square feet in the building, only 36,000 is usable space.
Looking inside the courthouse
Since the last renovation in the 1980s, the building has gone through several upgrades, though the building still requires regular work. Facilities Director Lennie Gillam said that the department does daily and weekly maintenance to keep the building functional.
“When you’re working on stuff week after week and having to jet the sewer every two weeks, those are just bandaids,” Gillam said.
Outdated plumbing and sewer systems require weekly maintenance to remain functional, and the public drinking fountains have been turned off for years due to lead found in the water pipes.
“We’ve made due with what we have for a long time,” Tipton said, adding that the county has done as much as it can, aside from a remodel to maintain the building.
County officials said that to bring the building up to code, it would need updated electrical, sewer, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning systems. Several more updates would be needed to bring the building to ADA compliance.
The old living quarters on the top floor still have the original electric systems in place with push button light switches. County officials have been told by the fire department that the dated electrical systems could pose a hazard.
Without a fire-suppression system in the building, officials said the lack of fire protection could leave decades of public tax, property, legal and coroners records vulnerable. Tipton said it doesn’t make sense to keep putting money into the building just to keep it functional.
Moffat County currently pays $102,000 per year in utilities for the courthouse, in addition to utilities for county offices that operate out of other spaces throughout town.
“We are citizens too, who also pay taxes, and we don’t want them to be wasted either,” Tipton said.
Why not save the courthouse?
County officials explored different options to keep the current courthouse in use. There were several ADA concerns that would need to be addressed for a public building, including adding an elevator on the exterior.
Because of security concerns for the district and county courts, the courthouse would also need a single point of entry to screen visitors.
Tipton said that when the estimate for the single point of entry came in at over $1 million alone, county officials had to start looking at other options.
Through the first feasibility study, the county considered remodeling the Yampa Building at 775 Yampa Ave. when it was vacant, but Tipton said that site would also require a significant expansion in order to accommodate the county’s needs.
The county also looked at adding the courts to the Public Safety Center, and updating the courthouse to continue housing other services. But the addition to the Public Safety Center wasn’t feasible.
Commissioner Bohrer said that any other entity wanting to retrofit the courthouse building would first need to address the infrastructure and code violations.
With the patchwork of renovations over the years, Tipton said that the interior of the courthouse would essentially need to be gutted for a remodel in order to retrofit the space and address infrastructure issues.
Commissioner Bohrer said that a common complaint from the community centers on all of the vacant buildings along main street, and there was concern that the old courthouse would also sit vacant for a while since it would need so much work.
While this project will move a large public office from the downtown area into the west end of town, Bohrer said that renovating the old Kmart building will occupy one large vacant property without leaving another behind.
County Commissioners have decided to turn the lot at 221 W. Victory Way over to the Craig Economic Development after the lot has been cleaned and mitigated from any environmental issues left behind.
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