Pitco courthouse’s north side up for debate | AspenTimes.com

Pitco courthouse’s north side up for debate

The next major decisions in the plans to renovate the Pitkin County Courthouse will center on the historic building’s north facade.

That was the word earlier this week from Jodi Smith, the county’s facilities director, who asked Pitkin County commissioners to consider removing the canopy over the building’s north side entrance to better accommodate a third-floor exterior stairway and emergency fire exit that must be constructed.

The canopy — which currently covers a north-facing patio that was a popular lunch spot until this summer — is not part of the building’s original design and was added some time after the building was constructed in 1890, Smith said during the commission’s Tuesday work session.

“The canopy has no architectural purpose at all,” she said.

The emergency exit stairway — long mandated by the city’s fire department — will require making a window on the third floor into a door, Smith said. The first flight will come down the east side of the north facade to a landing, then a second flight will go down to the ground, she said.

That ground landing could bump up against the canopy/porch area, Smith said.

Board Chairwoman Patti Clapper — a stickler when it comes to preserving Pitkin County history — did not like the idea of removing the canopy whether it’s historic or not, saying she’s always known the courthouse with the canopy.

“I want to leave it and see what happens,” she said. “It’s bothersome to me to keep messing with the building.”

Commissioner George Newman swung the other direction.

“I’d take the canopy off,” he said, noting that the removal will make the stairway landing “much cleaner.”

Commissioner Rachel Richards also leaned toward removing the canopy, though for a different reason. She reminded her colleagues that they promised during early talks about the courthouse renovation with historic preservation officials that they would consider restoring the building’s original design.

“We said we’d look at removing things like this,” Richards said. “Restoring the historic integrity means getting rid of non-historic add-ons.”

The courthouse was a hub of civic activity until this summer, when the county’s new Administration and Sheriff’s Building opened next door. The county assessor, treasurer and Sheriff’s Office moved out and into new digs in the new building. In addition, the Aspen Police Department, which also opened a new building just down the street, vacated the courthouse basement where it had been headquartered since the 1980s.

That left just the District Attorney’s Office and the Court Clerk’s Office and not much else.

Now, the county is about to embark on a renovation that will provide more space for the clerk, the DA and others, as well as a safer building that more closely conforms to modern courthouse norms.

Floor plans are being finalized, with the clerk moving down from the second floor to the first floor and the DA moving from the garden level to the first floor. The Probation Department also will receive a larger space, while judges and jail inmates will move in secure spaces away from the public, which currently cannot happen.

For example, the building will go from three public entrances to just one. The historic entrance on Main Street will feature standard X-ray screening machines and sheriff’s deputies when the renovation is complete. To make the entrance compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the front facade will have to be altered slightly to install a lift from the garden level to the first floor.

That alteration will be addressed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission on Jan. 9, Smith said. It is considered a “minor project” and will not be addressed by the Aspen City Council, she said.

The renovation is estimated to cost between $3 million and $5 million, Smith has said.

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