Pitkin County eyes upgrades including new public safety building | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County eyes upgrades including new public safety building

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

With an eye on the future, Pitkin County officials discussed plans to upgrade the courthouse and Courthouse Plaza to increase space, safety and efficiency during a county commissioners work session Tuesday.

Even with upgrades to both Main Street buildings, the county is leaning toward building a new public-safety building between Courthouse Plaza and the existing jailhouse. The initial cost estimate ranges between $16 million and $18 million for the entire upgrade and construction project.

“We’ve discussed a new public-safety building that would house the sheriff and some other departments,” Pitkin County Projects Manager Dave Detwiler said. “It certainly would be more efficient in terms of square feet. It would give the ability to create all the interconnectivity and security — everything that you would want — but it comes with a price tag in terms of dollars and space needs.”

Pitkin County completed a comprehensive facilities master plan in 2006 that identified major shortcomings in Pitkin County’s facilities for both existing and future needs.

New economic realities following the 2009 recession made implementation of the 2006 master plan infeasible and also changed the basic assumptions used to calculate future needs. Beginning in 2012, the county began incrementally planning for facility improvements more in line with current economic numbers.

The county looked at the possibility of a complete remodel of the Courthouse Plaza building to improve efficiency of space use and modernize the facility’s mechanical systems, energy efficiency and information technology. However, the increased capacity doesn’t accommodate the growing needs for public safety, court space, a public meeting space and administrative space for departments located in downtown Aspen.

“The city of Aspen is doing a facilities master-planning process,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said. “They hired RNL (an architecture, interior-design and engineering firm), who did our initial master-planning effort in 2006. We wanted to jump onto that contract and partner with the city to look at our whole downtown campus, update our needs and update what opportunities we have to meet our facilities needs, either in partnership or not. We’re in that process now. We wanted to update the board about what RNL is telling us in terms of our future needs.”

The RNL findings show that many county departments have inadequate space to effectively carry out their jobs, and there is little or no room for future growth. For example, the Sheriff’s Office currently occupies 3,491 square feet in the courthouse building, where the department has been located for the past 130 years. The study identified a minimum need of 8,285 square feet for the Sheriff’s Office to accommodate evidence storage, interview rooms and other public-safety needs.

The existing courthouse, which has historic designations, and Courthouse Plaza have many deficiencies that need to be addressed. Both need to improve energy efficiency, provide more efficient work spaces and use of overall space, reduce maintenance costs, provide better security for the public and staff and provide adequate space for current and future employees.

“We have space issues we need to address,” Detwiler said. “These issues aren’t new. We talked about these problems in 2005. We didn’t address the issues then, and it’s getting to the point of critical mass where they need to be addressed.”

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo spoke to the board about the growing needs of his department and how his facilities haven’t changed at all since he began working for the department in 1985.

“I’d like to think I’m not a Chicken Little, but we have problems,” he said.

DiSalvo spoke about the need for dedicated spaces to separate the public from criminal suspects and the inadequacy of the current evidence-storage area.

“I’m not looking to build a monument to government,” DiSalvo said. “But I believe firmly our next generation needs a better facility.”

The county is leaning toward a building option that would redesign Courthouse Plaza with a more open floor plan, complete a remodel of the courthouse and build a new public-safety building. The tentative timeline for construction would be from the third quarter of 2015 through the end of 2018, with an initial price tag of between $16.7 million and $18.2 million.

Some of the challenges the county will face with the project include funding, the sequencing of the projects, designing a new facility to meet the needs of the county and the temporary relocation of staff and the public during construction.

The commissioners requested another meeting concerning the project before a budget would be discussed.