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Major land gains favor as site for Riverton court; armory possible

Mar 10, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commis-sion has winnowed location options for the Riverton justice center down to two alternatives: a large building at the property along Major Avenue, or a small addition at the current site.

The county board eliminated the option of renovating the Fremont County Fairgrounds Fremont Center after architect Robert Johnson presented rough blueprints for facilities at several locations.

The Major property option would include a courthouse, county attorney's office and sheriff's office. The alternative at the current location would add just a courthouse and prehaps reinforce the existing structure to protect occupants.

Options

On Tuesday, Johnson gave a slide show of preliminary drawings and gave rough cost estimates for facilities to hold just a courthouse, or a courthouse, a county attorney's office and a sheriff's office.

He first showed a sketch of a justice center encompassing all three components next to the current courthouse near the fairgrounds.

It would hold about 16,400 square feet, he said, and cost $5 million.

"There's nothing in there that's fluff. This is lean," Johnson said. "There's little in there you could say that's totally unnecessary."

He was concerned parking could be inadequate and that security issues exist, and Johnson said unexpected costs may arise.

He also showed an option wherein the county would just build a courthouse on the site apart from the current facility, which would cost about $3 million for a 9,000 square-foot structure.

Next, Johnson laid out a scenario for renovating the armory building, or Fremont Center. It would be about 1,800 square feet, accommodate all three users. and cost about $4 million, he said.

"This looks like a brand new building," Johnson said, "It works absolutely perfectly for a court, but I know all the downsides to it."

Storm water entering the building is an issue for the site, he said, and regrading the land around it could add to the cost.

The architect then outlined a new building on the Major property. He said it would hold all three entities, be about 16,000 to 17,000 square feet. and cost about $5.2 million.

Bringing utilities would add about $30,000 to the cost, and helping with an extension of Gasser Road would add roughly $70,000, Johnson said.

A new building would be smaller than the armory refit, lowering maintenance and utility costs, Johnson said. He added, though, that parking may be insufficient.

Space that could be used for parking is zoned for agriculture, and changing its status would necessitate a public process, Johnson said.

Choosing favorites

Vice chairman Travis Becker quickly spoke against the armory site.

"It takes too much out of the community," he said. "I think you're looking at a domino affect, you take that away, you have to think about rebuilding something for the fair office, for the fair itself. Plus, it sits in a flood zone."

The Fremont Center holds offices for the Fremont County Fair and is an event space.

Chairman Doug Thompson joined Becker in opposing the armory site.

Thompson, Becker and commissioner Larry Allen indicated they favored the Major property option.

Cost concerns

Questions from commissioners Keja Whiteman and Stephanie Kessler led the conversation to examine the financial situation and evaluate a cheaper option.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said she favored just building a new courthouse at the current justice center, noting that option's lower cost.

Commissioner Stephanie Kes-sler said she liked the Major site, but she asked how the county would pay for the $5.2 million price tag and questioned what other uses the county could have for that money.

"I can't decide on that until I know how we can pay for it," she said, "if we can pay for it."

With the discussion focused on a larger building at the Major site or a small one at the fairgrounds, Becker then laid out the funding situation.

He said the county can count on about $1 million from State Loan and Investment Board consensus grants and funds the Wyoming Legislature.

Becker added that the county sent a grant application for $2.6 million to the SLIB state mineral royalty grant program, but he will not hear back about it until June.

Later, Becker said, "I think I found a million dollars, SLIB meets in June ... say we get a million (dollars). Now we're at two million (dollars). Now we're looking at our reserves. If we're only pulling one million (dollars), that makes our decision for us."

He said waiting to decide until June would delay releasing a bid and either raise the cost or put off construction for a year.

The county board also mulled a suggestion from Johnson that it could put out a bid for the small option and renegotiate the contract later if the MRG grant provided more money. The issue was that any contract would lock the county into one site, but commissioners would want to change sites if they expanded plans.

The commission asked the architect to draw up plans for adding a court house attached to the current justice center and "armoring" the old building.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett and Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker also said they would discuss the options.

Commissioners said they would discuss the issue again after hearing back from the architect and elected officials.

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