Commissioner candidates weigh in courthouse projects
The county commissioner District 1 race is the only contested race in Pitkin County for the November election. Rob Ittner is the incumbent and Patti Clapper is the challenger. Clapper previously served three terms as county commissioner but was term-limited in 2010 when Ittner won the seat over opponent Jack Johnson. This is the first of four questions The Aspen Times will run each day this week with answers from both candidates.
The Aspen Times: The county is considering major upgrades to the courthouse and Courthouse Plaza Building. Is now the right time to invest in the redevelopment of the two county buildings, and if not now, when?
First, I believe that timing is of importance when spending (or not spending) public funds. And due to the current economy, I believe that this is perhaps an ideal environment for investing in the county’s basic infrastructure, for investing in the county’s facility space needs. And this question goes beyond “major upgrades” to the courthouse and to the Courthouse Plaza Building. It is actually a question about returning the entire courthouse to court uses, about gutting the Plaza Building and then repurposing its uses, and also about a major addition to the Plaza Building.
The courts are currently in need of more space, but do they need the entire 20,000 square feet of the existing historic courthouse? Perhaps the basement level could be used for a joint court/county secured records storage area along with flexible meeting spaces?
The Sheriff’s Office is in need of more space; space that could and should be accommodated in the addition to the Plaza Building. And perhaps some of this new space could/should be shared with the proposed new city Police Department space on the adjacent city-owned Zupancis property? I think it is important that both law enforcement agencies share some same day-to-day space in order to retain and maintain their close working relationships.
As for county services in general, community development, assessor, treasurer, clerk and recorder, finance, attorney, open space and trails, administration (including the Board of County Commissioners), among other county departments, the ultimate goal and need is to house these services under one roof, as best and as appropriate as possible and in town. Therefore, the need to gut and repurpose the Plaza Building is of great importance. What better then to have all of these services, including public safety and law enforcement, on Main Street?
This issue needs to be studied hard. There are two things that we have to look at while studying this issue. First, what deficiencies do we have, and second, what are the needs of the county in the future?
The county has conducted a study that shows, based on our county size and services, we are at a shortage of space. This is largely due to needs for things like evidence storage and interview rooms for our sheriff’s departments after having to deal with a lengthy murder case this year.
As for future needs, we have to plan for facilities that are going to last us well into the future. The economies of scale to build for the future outweigh building a little now and more in the future. Another thing to consider is that cost of construction is on the rise and projected to increase greater than inflation over the next few years.
We are a service organization, and this will help us provide these services. Like many organizations, our ability to provide services depends on our county employees having the right work environment to do so.
This all has to be balanced with control of over-spending. I believe the county does a good job managing its spending, but one of the jobs of county commissioners is to ask the hard questions and make sure that the tax payer’s dollars are well spent. With this, we have to develop a flexible space that will be able to adapt to the work place of the future, and be conservative because of the land and construction cost here in our valley. Because of this, staff and the commissioners are considering an 18,000 to 22,000 square foot of a net gain of facility space. Note that the national standard for our size county and service level would be 33,000 to 37,000 square feet of additional space, and some of that gain will come from future relocation of non-county services.
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