Moffat County Commissioners submit DOLA application for courthouse improvement study
During Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting at the Moffat County Courthouse, Commissioners Don Cook, Ray Beck, and Donald Broom moved forward with submission for a request of $20,000 from the Department of Local Affairs – along with an additional match of $20,000 from Moffat County – for a Facility Programming Study of the 103-year old courthouse.
On the morning of Dec. 16, county commissioners met with Roy Tipton, the county’s director of development services, and Lennie Gillam, the county’s facilities director, to get a tour of secure areas at the aging courthouse, and get an update on a potential grant to update or help replace Craig and Moffat County’s courthouse. The courthouse houses the 14th Judicial District Attorneys, county probation, combined courts and clerks, and commissioners admin staff, among others under one roof.
On Nov. 25, Moffat County was awarded $80,000 in a grant for the fiscal year of 2020 from the Underfunded Courthouse Facility Fund. However, that $80,000 is to be used only for the third floor occupied by State Judicial.
Therefore, Tipton needed to request additional funds from the Department of Local Affairs, as well as the county commissioners. Tuesday morning, county commissioners approved the request to be sent to DOLA, moving the study forward.
Now, the study of the courthouse has a budget of $120,000 to either make substantial improvements to the historic courthouse itself, or look into moving all offices at the courthouse into a new building, such as the old Kmart building.
“This is a space-needs assessment and it’s planning for either a remodeling of the current building to meet the needs of the courthouses upstairs, or look into occupying another building,” Tipton said.
Current functions within the building include: County Assessor, County Clerk and Recorder, Elections, County Treasurer, County Commissioners, Administration, Natural Resources, Finance, Human Resources, Buildings and Grounds, Attorney, Development Services (the planning/land use function), IT/GIS, Emergency Management, District Attorney, and County, State and District Courts.
Due to the pressure from State Judicial, Moffat County has to look into ways to improve the courthouse, or move into a new and improved building.
“When I say State Judicial is pushing us on this, they are; they’re full upstairs,” Tipton said Tuesday during his presentation. “There are a number of deficiencies in this building that have been known for a long time. The real serious, life-threatening deficiencies are in safety.”
Safety is the main area of concern when it comes to the current courthouse. In-custody transportation is the number one concern at the courthouse, according to Tipton.
“The deputies have to bring inmates up a narrow set of stairs, all the way from the bottom to the top floor,” Tipton said. “It’s unsecured up there, and there’s no waiting area or holding for the inmates; it’s just not safe.”
Tipton was quick to point out that it’s not just about deputy safety, it’s about public safety as well inside the courthouse.
“Out of the three counties in the 14th Judicial District, this is the busiest courthouse of the three (Moffat, Routt, and Grand),” Tipton said. “The courthouse screened over 100,000 people last year. Tons of people are coming in and out. With that known, there’s just not enough space upstairs either.”
The study will also look at emergency issues with no fire alarms and sprinkler systems in the building, the need for a third courtroom, more employee space such as restrooms, meeting areas and break rooms, and more.
“We want to compare the cost to remodel this building to the cost of possibly purchasing the old Kmart building,” Tipton said. “This study doesn’t commit us to doing anything other than looking at what our options are.”
Tipton added that if the construction project were to move forward, Moffat County could repurpose old bonds. According to a previous Craig Press report, in October, Tipton floated the idea to commissioners.
“Funding for a remodel project could be provided partially through grants along with a 1.5-cent sales tax that is dedicated to paying for the bonds that financed the Public Safety Center built in 2000,” the October commissioners packet said. “These bonds will be retired in 2023 and 2025, which would free up revenue that could be applied to improvements at the courthouse. These revenues were approved by the voters for capital projects, so another ballot question would not have to take place.”
The first step is to do the study, Tipton said, and then that will give county commissioners the information they need to make the best decision possible.
However, Commissioner Cook said that the courts could come down hard on Moffat County and force them to build a new courthouse.
“If you’re going to start remodeling something and it affects the courts with noise and disruptions, they could say, ‘hey, we’re not going to do that,'” Cook said. “They have the ultimate authority. Both Grand and Routt County were ordered to build new courthouse, and now look… they have new courthouses.”
In previous Craig Press reporting, Commissioner Cook and Tipton estimated a new courthouse would cost between $30 million to $35 million.
The study of the current courthouse and any potential new courthouse will take approximately six months, according to Tipton.