Courthouse meeting not well attended
Forum regarding new justice facility doesn't receive much public attention
Steamboat Springs — Not even the promise of ice cream did enough to rouse the public to the county’s first big public presentation on a new courthouse. Of the 35 people who showed up for last night’s meeting, more than half were county officials or belonged to the committee steering the project.
“I wish more people were here,” said court administrator Evan Herman as he spooned some vanilla ice cream into his mouth after the hour-and-a-half-long presentation.
“There will be other opportunities for people to come out.”
The few residents that did show up were mostly convinced that a new judicial facility was needed. However, questions were directed toward a number of areas including the effect on traffic, how big the court should be and how it would be paid for.
“Cost is going to be a factor,” said resident and attorney Valerie Perea.
“But as an attorney, we need a facility with separation.”
Perea explained that she had seen firsthand how the old courthouse’s one hallway was clogged up with attorneys, clients, witnesses and jurors.
“There’s no privacy; everybody was in the same place,” Perea noted.
While Perea may understand the significance of adequate judicial facilities, the common public may not realize the extent of the current courthouse’s problems, Herman said.
Herman is part of the judicial facility committee that has been directed by the county commissioners to keep the public involved in the development of a new courthouse. The commissioners want to ask county residents to pass a bond issue in November 2002 to help fund what could be a $17 million project.
Denver-based architect Russ Sedmak explained to residents last night that a new court facility would be designed to meet modern standards.
One audience member asked about Sedmak’s firm, HLM Design, and its credentials.
It turns out HLM is the firm working with the state of Colorado to set the standard for modern court designs.
Sedmak said all modern courthouses are designed to keep the public, the prisoners and the jurors all in separate corridors around the courtrooms.
Not only does Steamboat’s courthouse have only one hallway leading to its courtrooms, it doesn’t offer any rooms for attorney/client privacy and is even short one courtroom. Court has been held everywhere from the community college to conference rooms at local businesses.
“It’s not the worst courthouse, but it’s one of the worst court facilities I’ve ever seen,” said Herman, who has been in and out of 40 court facilities during his career.
Mostly convinced that a new facility was needed, residents went on to ask questions immediately important to their everyday lives.
Anita Hawkins lives in Old Town on a small street off Fifth Street. She was concerned with one of the site options that would place the new judicial facility on Sixth Street where the old Visiting Nurse Association building stands. That particular site option would have that part of Sixth Street closed off for good.
She feared it would send more traffic onto Fifth Street and create more headaches for neighbors in her area of Old Town.
Hawkins was assured that traffic studies would be required by the city of Steamboat Springs before any site was seriously considered.
Another traffic problem brought up was the alley behind the Old Town Pub that could also serve as the alley for a new judicial facility and its sallyport where prisoners are driven into a garage.
Local architect Eric Smith, who is also working with HLM, said they had room to develop a second lane in the alley that would keep law-enforcement vehicles out of the alley’s regular path.
While the amount of $17 million has been given as a possible cost for the entire project, including parking, Sedmak would not commit to any amount when questioned by audience members.
“It will be dangerous for us tonight to predict a cost per square foot,” Sedmak said.
The $17 million figure had come from a budget report from the county’s accounting staff, which based it on very preliminary figures and ideas.
Audience members were also concerned the building be built with an eye toward growth.
Both Smith and Sedmak agreed their intent was to design a building that could be expanded, as well as including “soft space” within a new building.
Soft space would be areas in the building that are not fully utilized but could be expanded into when growth was needed.
The judicial committee’s next public meeting is being held in Oak Creek tonight at 7 p.m. at the community center.
After seeing the lack of public interest in Steamboat’s meeting, they might want to add hamburgers and french fries to the menu.
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