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Crews surround court facility with 14 Conex boxes
Fremont County Sheriff's Capt. Ryan Lee guided a fork lift moving a storage container into position at the county courthouse Thursday in Riverton. Photo by Wayne Nicholls

Boxed in: Crews surround court facility with 14 Conex boxes as short-term security fix

Oct 11, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Officials installed 14 Conex boxes around Riverton's court facility on South Federal Boulevard on Thursday after commissioners approved placement of the temporary barriers.

"Hopefully it's short term," Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker said at the commission meeting Oct. 9. "It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but hopefully it provides a level of security."

The security measures follow an incident in July when a bullet penetrated the facility's exterior.

During the commission meeting, Hornecker presented a rough drawing of the Conex setup, explaining that the barriers have to be arranged to allow for space between the boxes and the facility's outer walls. He estimated the open space varied from 6 feet in some areas to 4.5 feet in others.

"It's about the best we can come up with," Hornecker said about the arrangement.

The boxes are being rented for roughly $2,000 a month. Hornecker said 11 of the boxes are 40 feet long while three measure 20 feet in length.

Another $1,000 would be needed to create barriers between the boxes and the court facility, Hornecker said, adding that lighting and security cameras also might require adjustments which would also cost more money. Despite the added costs, Hornecker said the Conex boxes present the cheapest approach to addressing security concerns -- as long as the situation is only short-term.

"If it's a long term, that could be a concern," he said.

Fremont County building maintenance manager JR Oakley voiced unease about capturing snow between the boxes and the court facility's exterior wall in the winter months, but commission Travis Becker said the Conex solution is better than the alternative.

"The real possibility, if we didn't take action quickly, is that the Supreme Court would pull the court out of there, and then we're in limbo," Becker said during a recent meeting of the Fremont County Association of Governments. "This is not the best solution, but this is the quickest solution."

Funding

Earlier this month, the county applied for a $21,600 grant from the State Land and Investment Board through the Federal Mineral Royalty Capital Construction Account Grant program to help pay for rental of the Conex boxes. The remainder of the $43,200 price tag to rent the boxes for two years was to come from the county's coffer. SLIB only granted one year of funding at $10,800.

"Where is (the rest of) this money coming from?" County Clerk Julie Freese asked Oct. 9. "Whose budget is this coming out of?"

Hornecker said he would look into using money from Wyoming Homeland Security, and Becker said some funding may have to come out of county reserves.

Long-term

The commission has been working toward a permanent solution to Riverton's courthouse security issue. In recent months commissioners have considered moving court operations to the vacant High Plains Power building on Main Street, or constructing a new facility altogether. But Becker said both of those options will require more funding than is currently available through the Wyoming Supreme Court.

"(They) have no funding; they never have," Becker said during the recent FCAG meeting. "So when we're looking at a new facility we're kind of pigeon-holed. Where are we going to find this sort of funding?"

He estimated that $4 million to $5 million would be necessary to fund a permanent solution for Riverton's courthouse.

State Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, was at the FCAG meeting, and Becker asked him about potential funding through the Legislature. Goggles said the effort would take several years, adding that the Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court would have to make the monetary request.

"We're looking at that," Becker said.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said Oct. 9 that it will likely take more than a year to find a long-term fix for the courthouse. He suggested using the county's Capital Improvement Maintenance Planning Long-term process, but vice chairman Pat Hickerson felt Homeland Security funds should be pursued. Hickerson added that some money may have to come from the county's building maintenance budget.

"It's ultimately our responsibility to provide a secured facility," Hickerson said.

Freese asked about the possibility of renting space at Riverton City Hall for county court operations, but Becker said it could cost $60,000 to $70,000 a year to rent space from the city.

-- Staff writer Katie Roenigk contributed to this report.

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