Pitkin County Courthouse renovations could start this winter | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County Courthouse renovations could start this winter

Pitkin County commissioners announced a delay to renovations of the Pitkin County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times

After the new Pitkin County administration building is finished next month, officials will embark on a multimillion dollar renovation of the historic courthouse and will likely to reduce the number of public entrances to just one.

That’s according to a presentation Tuesday at the Pitkin County commissioners’ work session, which detailed what will happen to the inside of the three-story building once most of the current tenants move out this summer.

“We want to do the minimal (amount of renovation) so we can save what this building was intended for,” said Jodi Smith, Pitkin County’s facilities director, who pledged to retain the building’s historical character.

Pitkin County’s new $24.6 million Administration and Public Safety building, located next door to the courthouse, will be ready to be occupied in mid-July. That means the county treasurer, assessor and sheriff’s offices will move out of the courthouse — which opened in 1891 — and into the new building at that time.

The Aspen Police Department also will move out of the courthouse’s basement or “garden level” at the end of this month to its new $20.9 million building located next to the county’s new building on Main Street.

That will free up a whole lot of space in the courthouse, which is good because the courts need more room, Smith said.

“The current facility does not adequately provide the space (the courts) need,” she said.

Changes will include building a third courtroom, adding an exterior stairway from the top floor in case of emergencies and tightening the security situation to include a screening station just inside the main entrance, which will become the public’s only way into the building, according to the presentation by Smith and Rebecca Silva, project manager with Anderson Hallas Architects in Golden.

The county currently has budgeted $1.6 million for the renovation, though Smith estimated Tuesday that it will likely cost between $3 million and $5 million.

A team of stakeholders has been meeting since February to re-jigger the building, Smith said, and has come up with a plan relatively quickly.

Once the Police Department vacates the basement — where it has been since the 1980s — plans call for the construction of a third courtroom in the area now used as the officers’ patrol room, Silva said. Behind the courtroom on the northeast side of the building will be a dedicated entrance for jail inmates coming to court as well as a holding room for them, she said.

That new entrance and a new hallway to the elevator will keep inmates separate from the public, which cannot be done now, Silva said.

The room now used by the Police Department’s community resource officers next to the patrol room will become a jury deliberation room, she said.

The Police Department’s front office is slated for Alpine Legal Services, while the district attorney’s offices across the hall will be transformed into a multi-purpose conference room, Silva said.

In addition, officials are looking at making a window in the basement level just to the right of the courthouse’s main entrance into a handicapped entrance door with a lift to the main public entrance above, she said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards asked Smith and Silva to re-examine whether altering the courthouse’s front face is the best solution, or whether the handicapped entrance could be moved around the corner to the west side entrance.

“Have we really explored all options in maintaining the front facade?” Richards said.

The two west entrances ­— one to the basement and one to the first floor — will remain accessible to employees with key cards and as emergency exits.

For the second level or main floor, a security screening station will be set up in the lobby inside the main entrance off Main Street, with security personnel and an X-ray machine to examine people’s belongings, Silva said.

The offices to the left of the main entrance, now occupied by the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office, will become the new district attorney’s offices, she said. The court clerks’ offices, now located on the third floor, will move down a floor and take over most of the offices along the northside of the second floor, she said.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office suite will become the new terrain of the Probation Department, which will include a newly constructed bathroom to conduct drug and alcohol tests on clients, Silva said.

The third floor will essentially remain the same, with the clerks’ offices becoming new office space and a back entrance to the courtroom for inmates coming from the elevator, she said. A new jury deliberation room also will be built in that area, she said.

The District Court courtroom and Pitkin County courtroom will remain in place, as will the two areas that now house chambers for the two judges, Silva said.

Finally, the exterior emergency stairway, which was mandated by the Fire Department several years ago, will be constructed on the northeast corner of the building, though its exact details have not yet been worked out, Smith said.

Commissioners were supportive of the plans, though Richards asked Smith to try to restore some building features that may have been lost to past renovations.

Smith said she’s hoping to apply for a renovation permit for the courthouse by November.