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County courthouse to undergo major facelift Print
Written by Aimee Eaton   
Wednesday, 25 December 2013
“This is a once-in-a-century project for the county”

The halls of the Gunnison County Courthouse and county administration are quiet. The phones and computers, which for years have operated with little break, have all been disconnected and removed. Absent are the squeak of wet shoes and the low clanking rumble of heating vents and water pipes past their prime. Outside, the parking spaces sit empty.

 

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As of last week the building was closed for the demolition and deconstruction of the non-historic parts of the structure. It’s a project that will likely take 18 months, will cost Gunnison County roughly $14.5 million and will serve to greatly improve the safety and security of all those using the facility.
“We’ve known for years that we’ve had some major repairs to do on the courthouse, but because it’s so old and has had so many different remodels and add-ons, there was not a straightforward fix,” said Gunnison County manager Matthew Birnie. “The issues ranged from needing a new roof to replacing the majority of the mechanical systems, including the heating and
plumbing.”
The original courthouse was built in 1881. Between that first construction and 1979 the building has undergone 12 different major periods of construction and renovation, leaving the structure with a hodgepodge of different materials and styles, some of which have been an inferior quality, said Birnie.
“There are a number of requirements and niceties that go into a modern court facility,” said Birnie. “The current facility is lacking several of them.”
According to county records, the Board of County Commissioners began working on addressing some of these deficiencies 35 years ago, when the District Court judge sitting in Gunnison ordered that the building be updated so that “adequate court facilities” could be provided. However, the efforts proved inadequate and a lack of funding, coupled with higher priority projects, “hampered the county’s ability to move forward with this project.”
“The Board of County Commissioners put the courthouse project on the strategic plan in 2010,” said Birnie. “Originally we thought we’d just be able to renovate, and even there we were looking at a multi-million-dollar project.”
“Last year we commissioned a group of engineers and architects to go through the existing building and provide an assessment for the project,” he said.
”When their report came out, the bottom line was that we could spend millions to renovate and we would still be unable to fix some of the fundamental problems surrounding access and security.”
In most courthouses, judges and court employees access courtrooms and facilities through private hallways and entrances. That has not been the case in Gunnison. In addition, there has been no separation between where a suspect for a crime sits and waits for trial and where the victim of that same crime waits.
“It could be the case that a minor who has experienced a rape and is pursuing prosecution has to walk down the same hall as her assailant, or sit on the same benches,” said Birnie. “Renovation would not necessarily have been able to adequately address that.”
After considering the report and its ramifications, and examining the financial standings of the county, the Board of County Commissioners in collaboration with county administration and the greater community decided to demolish the majority of the current courthouse, while retaining the original 1881 construction, and build new.
“The new facility will be smaller, safer, more energy- and work-efficient and cheaper to operate and maintain,” the county reported. “It will also fulfill the Court’s security and hearing space needs, which are not addressed in the current configuration. The original circa 1881 portion of the structure will be fortified, protected and included within the project.”
The county hired GE Johnson, the Colorado Springs construction company that built the county’s public works facility and public safety center, to lead the project build. They are also working with two different architects—one with a specialty in court buildings and one with an expertise in historic buildings—to ensure the success of the project.
“This is a once-in-a-century project for the county,” said Birnie. “We’re excited about the team we’ve put together, and we believe that we’ll be building something that will serve the community for decades.”
GE Johnson will take possession of the courthouse on January 3. The project will kick off with abatement and deconstruction of the old construction, with new construction expected to begin this spring, or as weather permits.
Plans for the new courthouse showcase a two-story building that will be slightly smaller, at 44,000 square feet, than the current 53,000-square-foot courthouse. It will feature a cement foundation, cement floors and steel framing, and will be finished with an exterior of wood, masonry and glass. The court facilities will take up about 70 percent of the called-for square footage, with county administration, finance, juvenile services and offices for the county commissioners filling the remainder.
“Our goal is to have a modern court facility that preserves the historic 1881 construction,” said Birnie. “In making that a focal point we hope to show the connection of the past to the modern day.”
Part of that modernity can be seen in more than just the layout of the court facilities. Current plans for the courthouse are consistent with an LEED environmental certification, and the building will be Energy Star certified. In addition, there is a current movement to incorporate geothermal heating and energy technology in the infrastructure.
“Designing the building to be energy-efficient is something that makes economic sense, especially over the long term,” said Birnie. “We won’t opt to pursue the LEED certification because of the cost, but we are building to that standard.”
Estimates for the total cost of the construction put the price tag at about $14.5 million overall with about $12 million directly attributable to construction. The county will finance about $9.8 million of the total with the remainder coming from savings in preparation of the project and a $1 million grant from the Department of Local Affairs Energy Impact Fund.
While the construction is under way, county offices and the courts have been relocated throughout Gunnison. For a full list of addresses and temporary locations, and to see plans for the new courthouse, visit the Gunnison County web site at gunnisoncounty.org.

 
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