Public gives new ideas for old courthouse

ALAMOSA — "The county shouldn't be in the business of owning and operating property," said Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn to a small group gathered at the Alamosa County Courthouse on Tuesday. "We shouldn't be because it takes it off the tax roll and interferes with individuals in the business world."

The meeting, set up after a work session on April 11 discussing the courthouse's future, was designed so that the commissioners could hear the public's thoughts on what to do. Ideas ranged from a boutique hotel to a shopping complex to an expansion for Trinidad State Junior College. As discussed in the work session, the 12th Judicial District Attorney's office has no interest in moving into the facility.

Resident Lawrence Martinez mentioned that it could be used for a youth center. "I think we need to concentrate on the youth and keeping them out of drugs," Martinez said. "They need something to do."

According to documents passed out at the meeting, the 80-year-old courthouse has an estimated value of $662,000 and could add $16,000 in property tax if purchased. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, which makes it eligible for grants to help preserve the approximately 20,282 square feet.

"The county really has no use for the building, so the question is reuse," said Don Thompson. "It's much greener than new construction because we don't tear down the building and put it in a landfill...I think the fact that it has been designated a historic site adds to its value."

No matter what is done, attendees agreed that it would take work. There are roughly $168,900 in known repair costs such as replacing the carpet and roof to removing asbestos, a carcinogen known to cause mesothelioma. Along with an estimated $45,000-$50,000 in annual operating expenses, there are unknown costs like making the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, fixing locks and dividing the electric meter.

"You're looking at $2.6 million to $3 million to renovate this into something that would extend its longevity," said Tim Walters. "We have to deal with the economics around our community, which in many cases isn't that sell it or you give it away, but right now in our economic environment I'm not so sure you could the courthouse away and have someone make a go at it."

"It's an expensive proposition to keep that maintained," added real estate agent Preston Porter. "But I think it's important for downtown viability for something to be in here if possible."

The county hasn't put out a formal request for proposals and there is currently no set timeline to sell the building.

"It is going to take time to finish up the new courthouse and move everyone out of here," Yohn said.

File photo.