EDITORIAL: The Bare Necessities and Why We Lack Them, Part Three

Read Part One

I joined my daughter Ursala Hudson in the downstairs courtroom in the Archuleta County Courthouse yesterday afternoon — a fairly spacious room for this occasion. It was once the County Commissioners meeting room, back before the commissioners bought and remodeled their new offices on Lewis Street, and I’ve seen the room packed with 40 or 50 people during certain contentious commissioner hearings.

I’d estimate the size of the courtroom at about 700 square feet. You can fit about 100 people into 700 square feet, according to the International Building Code — so long are you have appropriately-sized exit doors. You probably wouldn’t want 100 people in a courtroom, however. At least not, for any length of time.

Yesterday, there were only four of us in the room; Magistrate Jim Casey, Ursala, her attorney Daniel Fiedler, and myself. The hearing had been scheduled to ask the Court to recognize the Last Will and Testament of my former wife, Clarissa Rizal, who passed away in December — and to officially appoint Ursala as “PR” for the probate process and for the distribution of Clarissa’s estate. (“PR” as in “Personal Representative.”) The process took about ten minutes.

I believe this was Ursala’s first time as a participant in a court hearing. Presumably, attorney Fiedler is more familiar with the two courtrooms in the Archuleta County Courthouse; and I have spent a few hours in these rooms myself, during my 23 years in Pagosa Springs.

As I was merely an observer in yesterday’s proceedings, I had a chance to look around the room, at the polished woodwork of the judge’s bench, at the texture of the pale blue walls, at the smooth padded metal chairs — portable chairs — that faced the bench. The room seemed, to me, very suitable for the process at hand.

I’m comfortable with the idea that this rather spacious room sits empty, day in and day out, except for a few hours a day on certain days of the week. I understand the need for rooms that sit empty, patiently waiting for someone to use them. I appreciate spacious auditoriums and theatres, for example, that might be fully utilized for only a few hours per month. And a courtroom — it’s a kind of theatre, where drama gets played out. JUst like a county commissioners’ meeting room. Yes, I admit, I’m a fan of good drama.

A few hours earlier in the day, yesterday, I had joined a slightly larger gathering at the County Administration offices.

Many of the people in the room were connected to the Colorado Judicial Department; they’d come to hear the latest developments in the ongoing drama of the ‘New Justice Center.’ The performance featured one of our prominent local civil engineers, Mike Davis, and the two architects — Bob Johnson and Brad Ash — who’ve been working on the proposed ‘New Justice Center’ for the past 18 months or so.

Engineer Mike Davis explains the challenges of designing a parking lot to fit on the proposed ‘Justice Center’ site, at the February 7, 2017 County Commissioner work session.

Mr. Davis began by summarizing some of the problems posed by the topography of the proposed site on Hot Springs Boulevard:

the fact that parts of the property are more than 40 feet higher in elevation than the lower areas

the fact that the Town’s parking regulations for new construction, combined with the parcel’s small size, leave no obvious place to locate the required storm water treatment system

the problems with fire department access on a steeply sloping lot

the lack of an obvious place for VIN inspections

the fact that the access is off Hot Springs Boulevard, a poorly-maintained street that was never completely finished, nor even completely designed.

Hot Springs Boulevard, as it appeared in the summer of 2016.

Following Mr. Davis’ summary, much of the discussion focused on the proposed design for one third of the project: the Court facilities. Here is where we get to talk, once again, about big empty rooms.
The architects had been doing their job, figuring out how to fit many, many offices and courtrooms and restrooms on a too-small parcel. The results of their work was shared as Powerpoint slides, on the two large display screens in the Commissioners’ meeting room. One of the first slides illustrated the topography, showing the higher elevations to be 44 feet above the lower parts of the parcel.

Finally we got around to the slides showing the Courthouse design. Just a preliminary design at this point, although it looked rather polished. Approximately 16,000 square feet of space that will sit mainly empty except for a few hours a day, a few days of the week.

The large purple spaces in the center of the building are the three new courtrooms. The small one, in the lower center of the drawing, is the hearing room, and looks to be approximately the same size as the courtroom Ursala visited yesterday in the old Courthouse. The other two courtrooms are, of course, much larger.

The blue color indicates restrooms. This design includes 10 restrooms. (Those of you who work in construction probably know that bathrooms are some of the most expensive rooms in the house, per square foot.)

The three offices on the far left are for the judges. Each judge has his/her own restroom.

As you look at this drawing, I would ask you to consider the fact that the community of Pagosa Springs already has two functioning courtrooms. What we actually might need to build is one more courtroom (assuming our Judicial Department is making full use of their two existing courtrooms.) That “one more courtroom” could easily be accommodated on a tiny corner of the vacant one acre of land sitting right next to the old Courthouse on Main Street.

But at least one of our sitting County Commissioners wants the community’s taxpayers to spend $25 million duplicating the mostly-empty rooms we already own, to be built on a sloping parcel half a mile away.

Meanwhile, our Sheriff is having trouble holding on to deputies, because they can’t find affordable housing in Pagosa Springs.

Read Part Four…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.