Court-requested move during renovations won’t come cheap for Pitkin County
Moving the 9th Judicial District court operations for at least seven months while renovations at the Pitkin County Courthouse can be completed won’t be cheap.
Pitkin County will pay the city of Aspen nearly $24,000 a month to rent thousands of square feet in the Armory Building for the courts from March 1 until at least Sept. 30, and possibly a full year until the final phase of courthouse renovations is finished, Deputy County Manager Rich Englehart told county commissioners Tuesday.
“This is a good opportunity,” Commissioner Steve Child said. “It’s only a block away from the courthouse.”
Pitkin County undertook a $5 million renovation of the historic Pitkin County Courthouse — built in 1880 — in September 2019. However, only the basement and the first floor were fixed up before the COVID-19 pandemic descended and forced a mid-stream shutdown in April 2020 until the health emergency lessened. That left the second floor, where the two main courtrooms are located, as the only area still not fixed up.
The time to continue the renovation is now, county officials have decided, which coincided nicely with the city of Aspen’s move into the new City Hall across from Rio Grande Park. That freed up the old City Hall — also known as the Armory Building — to be used temporarily by the 9th Judicial District court system, Englehart said.
The county will lease 6,200 square feet of space for courtrooms, the court clerk’s office, a security checkpoint at the entrance and other offices, according to a floor plan provided Tuesday to county commissioners. Pitkin County will also utilize 1,993 square feet of shared space with city offices that did not make the move to the new City Hall, he said.
Pitkin County will pay for minor renovations to the building, mainly to set up the security checkpoint, which is manned by private security guards, at the front entrance, Englehart said.
“Even city staff that goes through that front door now is going to have to go through screening,” he said. “It is going to be a secured building with it being a court.”
Most of the building, however, will not need any serious alterations, and the county even plans to use some of the furniture the city left behind when it moved, he said.
Along with the checkpoint, the first floor will be occupied by the court clerk’s offices, Alpine Legal Services, the probation department and various city offices. The basement level, where the Aspen City Council meets, will be taken up by county courtroom and the district courtroom, according to floor plans.
The District Attorney’s Office, offices for judges, a jury room and a waiting room will take up the second floor, along with other city offices. The county will not rent any space on the building’s third floor.
The city is charging the county $30 per square foot for the space it will solely occupy and $15 per square foot for the shared space, which is equal to the rate it charges other organizations like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and nonprofits in the Red Brick and Yellow Brick buildings, Englehart said.
In addition to the $23,870 Pitkin County will pay per month for the city-owned space, the county will also pay $35,000 for court moving expenses.
Judges and court employees put up with the previous renovations, but requested the move for the final phase because of the expected construction disturbances, Englehart said. Beyond setting up IT systems, the state, which runs the court system, will not contribute any money to the court move, he said.
“Last time we did this, it was very difficult (for court operations),” Englehart said. “It was tough. It was noisy. They put up with it.”
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