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City reviews judicial facility

Courthouse planners have many difficult questions

Avi Salzman

— How can a building be large enough to hold at least four courtrooms yet small enough it does not cast a wide shadow over the converted residences sitting across the street? How can the building provide parking for hundreds of cars without necessitating a parking structure that is so large its roof is higher than the building itself? How can the 54,000-square-foot facility be interesting architecturally while still fitting in with a much smaller historical courthouse that is in many ways a squat rectangle?

Those are only some of the difficult questions the planners of a new county judicial facility will have to deal with in the next few months as they prepare a final development plan to be brought before the city.

All that before supporters even start trying to sell the potential $17 million facility to voters.

The Steamboat Springs City Council and the city’s Planning Commission were presented Tuesday night with plans for a new judicial facility highlighted by an entrance tower rising 57 feet into the air and a pedestrian-friendly campus atmosphere.

Representatives of the court system in the 14th Judicial District attended the meeting to show support for the expansion, which they say is needed for safety reasons as much as general space needs. Witnesses in a murder case, for instance, may have to use the same waiting area essentially a long hallway as the defendant’s family. Jurors will sometimes pass people involved in the case on their way to the deliberating room. And perhaps worst of all, shackled defendants often have to pass nonsecure waiting areas as they make their way into the courtroom, said Adam Herman, the administrator for the 14th Judicial District.

The old building also does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Herman said.

“This is one of the worst facilities I’ve ever seen,” said Herman, noting the building housed 200 new cases every year when it was first inhabited in 1923 but now must handle the traffic of more than 4,000 new cases annually.

Judge Richard P. Doucette looked around the city’s new Centennial Hall building and remarked how important it is to have a building that creates an atmosphere of professionalism.

“A nice facility keeps people from doing things that they would otherwise do,” Doucette said.

With that in mind, the company hired to design the building, HLM Design, has created a structure they think is architecturally interesting but is first and foremost a building the community can identify and honor as a house of justice.

The council and Planning Commission were generally supportive of the preliminary application and closing off part of Sixth Street but did give the design group and community members some direction as to where they may need to do some more work. No vote was taken.

One major concern was the two- or three-story parking structure, which was not presented in drawings to the council because its design has not been finalized. While the application calls for 25 new parking spaces, the city officials present felt that number may be too small given the downtown parking crunch and the size of the new building.

Community members also spoke up on the issue.

Ty Lockhart said the parking arrangement was an attempt to “nickel and dime” the community.

City officials expressed some confusion as to how such a large building could necessitate so few spots.

“I do find it difficult that a building over 54,000 square feet has only 25 new parking spaces,” said Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathi Meyer.

The city may ask the planners to put the first floor of the parking garage, as well as utilities, underground.


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