Courts may move out of courthouse during renovations
Most district court and county court functions could be moved out of the historic Pitkin County Courthouse for nearly a year while it undergoes renovations slated to start this summer, a county official said Tuesday.
Judges are concerned about construction noise and disruptions to court proceedings that are usually recorded for posterity, said Jodi Smith, Pitkin County’s facilities director. It is not yet clear exactly where the court’s business would take place, though the Pitkin County Library and the former 911 dispatch center next to the Pitkin County Jail are the most likely locations, she said.
“This really just happened in the last 10 days,” Smith told commissioners Tuesday at their regular weekly work session. “We’re starting to look at other options to accommodate them.”
James Boyd, the chief judge in the 9th Judicial District, initially signed off on a phased construction schedule that was to work around the courts’ schedule, she said. Recently, however, Boyd, District Judge Chris Seldin, who administers the Aspen felony docket, and Pitkin County Court Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely have raised concerns about the arrangement, Smith said.
Boyd is supposed to tell Smith by Friday if he wants the courts moved out of the courthouse during construction, she said.
Boyd did not return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the idea of holding court proceedings outside the courthouse will go for a trial run next week when construction crews begin asbestos and lead paint abatement in the courthouse, which was built in 1880, Smith said. The judges will hold advisement hearings at the old dispatch center — now known as the “jail annex” — while a two-day court trial will be held at the community room in the Pitkin County Library, she said.
“(The judges) don’t want to be in the building during the (asbestos) abatement,” though the work will be done at night and county officials have assured them it is safe to be in the building, Smith said. The asbestos removal will start Monday, take place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and will include air-quality monitoring to make sure asbestos doesn’t become airborne, she said.
The actual construction and renovations are expected to start Aug. 1 and last about 10 months, Smith said.
If Boyd and the other judges decide they don’t want to be in the courthouse during that time, it is up to Pitkin County to provide them with space to do court business, she said.
“(The judges) can shut down construction if it’s disrupting court,” Smith said. “We risk a prolonged project.”
In addition to paying an estimated $4.73 million to renovate the old building, Pitkin County also would have to foot the bill to move and house the courts in another location, she said. That fact didn’t sit well with Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman on Tuesday.
“(The budget) is something they need to understand, too,” Newman said. “If (moving the judges and court for 10 months) is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, I’m not going to support that.”
Commissioner Patti Clapper said the price for moving the court out of the building, if mandated by the judges, might have to come out of the renovations, thereby necessitating cuts to other proposed amenities in the building. Smith said later she didn’t think moving the courts would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” though she said it was too early in the process to know the exact amount.
The courthouse is being re-jiggered and made safer for employees, judges and the public after Aspen police and several county offices decamped this summer to newly constructed buildings next door. It also will become more accessible to the disabled.
Instead of three public entrances, there will be just one off Main Street, while a fire escape is being installed on the outside of the back of the building in case of emergencies. Plans also call for building a security station at the entrance, another courtroom in the courthouse’s basement and renovating office suites for the district attorney, the court clerks and probation staff.
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