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Plan would put Riverton courthouse on Major parcel

Feb 10, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Tentative plans are shaping up to build a $5 million Riverton courthouse facility at the Major property in north Riverton that would house the county court, the Fremont County Attorney's and Fremont County Sheriff's offices in the county's largest city.

Funding and deadlines remain obstacles for the justice center project.

Fremont County Commission vice chairman Travis Becker, who is spearheading the planning effort, said he would like the project to go to bid this spring or early summer. Waiting until late summer adds significantly to the cost of construction projects, he said.

Plans, however, are still in the early stages. The commission has not made final decisions about size or location. Once it does, an architect will have to design the building, and the county will need to arrange funding.

Moves to build a new facility intensified after a bullet hole was found in July on the current courthouse's exterior. Large container boxes have been placed around the building as a shield against further gunshots.

Becker said he expects to present a plan to the commission on Feb. 12 or Feb. 19 and is hoping to finalize the architecture by the end of February. That goal might be too ambitious, though, he said.

"The funding source is one of our biggest issues," Becker said.

Consultants estimated the building would cost between $5.2 and $5.4 million.

Part of a countywide consensus block grant from the State Loan Investment Board could provide $120,000. Fremont County and its municipalities are finishing decisions about allocating those funds this week.

Becker said that money would lay the groundwork for the project.

He said he hopes to secure more funds from the state for the justice center, and deadlines are again an issue as due dates for some state grants are approaching in March and April.

Depending on the state's support, the county might have to cover about half the cost as well, Becker said.

He said he is looking at several locations for a new courthouse, including the county fairgrounds, the Major property and the vacant High Plains Power office building.

"Quite honestly, it looks like the Major property is the best option," Becker said.

The parcel runs north to Cooper Road from Riverton Memorial Hospital and Jaycee Park. The Major family made the property available a couple of years ago below market price.

The fairgrounds does not have enough room for it to be a good site, he added, and renovating the High Plains Power building would cost as much as new construction and would come with other constraints.

At the commission meeting Jan. 29, some commissioners expressed interest in building a new fairgrounds at the Major site.

Becker said the property has 110 acres and the courthouse would only use about three, leaving enough room for fair facilities if the county decided to build them.

At the Jan. 29 meeting, Becker said the current courthouse is about 9,200 square feet, but a new building to house the court, the county attorney's office and the sheriff's office could be 11,000 to 13,000 square feet or more.

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