Justice center opens in Alamosa

Celebrating the ribbon cutting of the new Alamosa County Justice Center on Friday are from left Alamosa County Commission Chairman Darius Allen, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats, Chief District Judge Pattie Swift, Underfunded Courthouse Facility Commission Chairman Judge Mark MacDonnell, Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis and Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn./Courier photo by Ruth Heide

ALAMOSA — Judiciary and county leaders on Friday welcomed the public into the new Alamosa County Justice Center — and thanked them for making it possible.

Several speakers during the grand opening ceremony thanked voters for passing the “One Cent for Justice” sales tax that helped build the new courthouse in the county complex in south Alamosa.

“I express my appreciation to the voters in Alamosa County for approving the sales tax that made this building possible,” said Chief District Judge Pattie Swift.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the citizens of the county to see the need,” added Alamosa County Commission Chairman Darius Allen.

“Today is a day of celebration, a day of pride, and a day of great accomplishment,” said Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis as she welcomed those gathered for the grand opening ceremony. She acknowledged elected officials past and present who attended the ceremony and specifically thanked everyone from those involved in the initial design and financing to those who donated funds to help with the landscaping yet to be completed.

“A lot of people helped make this dream a reality for us,” she said.

Referring to the National Center for State Courts, Dennis said, “A well designed courthouse facility has the ability to embody the court’s essential principles of openness and fairness, providing accessibility and security while allowing the judicial process to move forward unhindered and with increased efficiency and effectiveness.”

She said that is what this new building provided.

Judge Swift acknowledged past and current judges present for the grand opening as well as other visiting judges such as Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats and District Judge Mark MacDonnell, chairman of the Underfunded Courthouse Facility Commission, who spoke during the Friday ceremony.

Judge Swift said the initial courthouse was completed in 1938 and served the county and courts very well for many years. However, the space became inadequate and insufficient in recent years, which was corroborated by a court facility study that determined almost three times more space was needed.

In addition, the courthouse was not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible, having no elevator between the two floors, Swift said.

Swift said when the county officials were approached about the problems of the old courthouse, they appointed a task force to look at options. The task force included county officials and staff as well as representatives from the city and judicial system and members of the public.

After viewing all the options from renovating the old courthouse to building a new one, the task force asked the county commissioners to seek a sales tax from voters for a new building, something the voters approved in the November 2015 election.

After the sales tax passed, the county also received more than $1 million from the Underfunded Courthouse Facility Fund and more than $700,000 from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to assist with the $14 million project.

Reilly Johnson Architecture was then selected to design the building.

“It isn’t fancy but it meets our needs now and into the future,” Judge Swift said.

She said the new justice center is more secure than the old facility, providing a single point of entry. It contains three full sized courtrooms, two hearing rooms and a room that is multipurpose, which is where the grand opening ceremony was held on Friday.

Everything is on one floor, making every courtroom and office accessible to everyone, Swift said.

Probation offices also have sufficient space in the new building, Swift added.

There are also rooms for attorneys and clients to have private conversations, Swift said.

The justice center also has two inmate entrances behind the courthouse and inmate holding areas, creating greater safety, Swift said.

Justice Coats commended the county and judiciary for coming to a consensus on this project, something he hoped would be a model for other areas in the state. A courthouse serves many purposes and many individuals in the effective and safe administration of justice, Coats said.

Judge MacDonnell spoke about the Underfunded Courthouse Facility Commission established by the General Assembly in 2014 to address courthouse needs around the state. Since its inception the commission has provided $4.6 million to courts throughout Colorado. Alamosa received $1.3 million from the commission.

MacDonnell said of all the groups seeking funding, “The Alamosa contingent was by far the most organized, the most unified and the most together.” The courthouse is the result of that unified effort, he said.

GH Phipps served as general contractor. Many local firms were sub-contractors.

“I am really excited to be a part of this project,” said Brian Cook, co-owner of Alcon Construction, who listed the numerous sub-contractors who had a part in the project from painting and carpeting to security.

Cook said the construction of the justice center took well over 100,000 man hours or the equivalent of 12 people working 24/7 all year.

“It’s a pretty impressive effort,” he said.

Cook shared some of the details about the construction. For example, the carpet and tile amounts to an acre of materials. There are 870 light fixtures in the building and 6,580 sheets of wallboard.

Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond was unable to attend the ceremony on Friday, but Commissioners Michael Yohn and Commission Chairman Darius Allen spoke on behalf of the county.

Yohn said it was important for the county to keep as much of the project local as possible and to use the labor force here. It was also important to find funding sources to offset the local tax, he added.

Yohn thanked the community for passing the sales tax. He also acknowledged the efforts of the late Marianne Dunne who served as county commissioner before her death from cancer two years ago.

Joe Martinez, who served as chairman of the judicial center task force, credited Gigi Dennis for developing the “one cent for justice” concept and for seeing the project through all the way to the end. He presented her with a bouquet of roses in acknowledgement.

Commissioner Allen recalled how the county used foresight in buying the land south of Alamosa so county offices could expand, beginning with the county road and bridge facility and expanding to administration, public health, social services and the departments formerly housed in the courthouse annex. The county was also able to help others such as the behavioral health center and city maintenance shops expand as well, he said.

“These things were all necessary,” he said. “We had a rhyme and reason for things and a way we could pay for it and make it work.”

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