County weighs courthouse future

ALAMOSA — Just because Alamosa County is spending millions constructing a new courthouse doesn’t mean the old district courthouse, located at 702 Fourth Street, has stopped costing the county money. During a work session at the Alamosa County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, officials discussed how to curb maintenance expenses.

“Preservation of the old courthouse for our community is very important,” said Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis. “We still want to save it, we still want it to look nice, and it’s kind of a centerpiece there in downtown Alamosa. But we can have the preservation of the courthouse and not be the landlord.”

Since 2015 the county spent an average of $43,728 a year on courthouse upkeep and budgeted $50,946.80 for the 2018 fiscal year. Next year the county is expected to pay $80,000 in new carpeting and $21,000 for a fresh coat of paint. Repairing the roof, scheduled for 2020, is estimated to cost $48,406. Dennis said that adding the new courthouse’s 45,000 square feet on top of those other costs would be too much to maintain.

During the original discussion for the new judicial center and jail expansion years ago it was suggested that the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s office and district probation department could utilize the space. However, probation is slated to occupy the new complex and the DA’s office doesn’t want to move into the old courthouse.

“I’ve struggled to figure out how that space would be functional for my office,” said 12th Judicial District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen. “The technology is there for the internet and so forth that we need, but there’s no air conditioning...and there’s no elevator, which can be problematic for our victims from time to time.” 

While Newmyer-Olsen said that their current 3,500-square-foot office, located at 426 San Juan Avenue, is cramped for the 24-person staff, it has the amenities they need for an average annual rent of $43,400. Since they haven’t migrated to a completely paperless system the elevator helps in moving large quantities of files, too. Moving across the street also wouldn’t solve the issue of now being miles away from court when the new building is operational.

“We do need more space, but the pros to our current space is that everyone likes it there,” Newmyer-Olsen said. “We can’t be hauling 150 files up and down the stairs every week to prepare for court.”

Along with the future roof repairs and new carpet, the historic courthouse needs updated heating and safety systems. The boiler isn’t zoned so all areas of the building are heated simultaneous, even if unoccupied, and there is no fire system beyond simple battery-powered smoke detectors. The restrooms, which may have asbestos, have never been remodeled. Ordering two new high-efficiency boilers would cost an estimated $67,000—not including the additional valves and tanks needed to make it operational.

“We’re opening up a can of worms once we start cutting pipes,” said Alamosa County Facilities Director Andrew Atencio “It can get real expensive, really fast...It’s like an old car. It’s beautiful to look at but the maintenance behind it is going to be pretty high.”

Officials are weighing multiple ideas such as selling it to help fund the new courthouse, keeping it as is, or transforming it into office or storage space for other county departments.

“When we passed the one-cent sales tax we promised to keep the courthouse functioning and I’m going to stick by that,” said Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn. “It is an asset that we have...The county isn’t really into owning property, but this is one historical piece of property that I think the county needs to’s functional now and there’s no reason why it can’t continue being functional.”

“There’s all kinds of people that might use it if it’s available.”

Though the ballot language mentions remodeling and updating existing facilities, Alamosa County Attorney Jason Kelly said that was included so the funds could be used on upkeep of the new courthouse and jail. Additionally, Kelly reminded the commissioners that even if the building were vacant the county would be liable if someone hurt themselves on icy sidewalks.

Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen disagreed with Yohn’s stance. “Mike, you and I are on different sides,” Allen said. “I don’t think we actually made a promise. It was just one of the suggestions that we had with DA going in there with probation...I don’t know where we’re going to get the money to do what we need to do.”

A community meeting about the courthouse will be held on May 1 at 5:30 p.m. in Courtroom A.