Remodel of 2nd-floor civil courts area to yield new courtroom

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By AJ Vicens

A room on the second floor of the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Facility will be converted into a courtroom to make room for an additional district judge at a cost of $574,000 to $684,000.

The cost of the project — which is expected to take about four months — includes $223,495 to be paid to Fentress Architects to design a master plan for the building and $350,000 to $460,000 to convert the civil court space to a courtroom, convert adjacent offices into judges’ chambers, and build a waiting/conference room and a clerk’s office. The project will move civil court to the first floor of the administration side of the building, and will also move some IT personnel.

The additional district judge comes with a staff of four, and an additional county judge will come with a staff of three. Both judges arrive July 1. A year from that date, two more district judges arrive, and another county judge comes with them.

The state-mandated additions have forced county administrators to rethink the space in the Taj Mahal, and by hiring Fentress Architects, the county is going back to the beginning — Fentress designed the Taj and knows the building well, which may have helped it win the contract. The county is looking at the immediate need for the new courtroom July 1, the short-term needs of planning for the additional judges in 2009, and the long-term needs for an estimated 36 judicial positions by 2015 (there are currently 28 judicial positions and 27 courtrooms).

The additional county judge will make do with small changes to courtroom 1C on the first floor, currently a spot used by a magistrate.

“The magistrate will be the second judicial officer on roller skates if this thing happens,” 1st Judicial District Chief Judge Brooke Jackson said last week. He was referring to the fact that County Judge Jack DeVita already rotates courtrooms depending on the day.

“I’m afraid the choices don’t get easier as we move forward,” District 3 Commissioner Kathy Hartman said last week in a commissioners’ staff briefing on the issue.

Deputy County Administrator Nanette Neelan and her staff explored four options to deal with this problem, according to a presentation given by Tim Doiel, the project manager. Along with the option endorsed by the commissioners to create the second-floor courtroom, the county could have: created a non-jury/non-prisoner transport courtroom in the current jury assembly area. This plan — with an estimated price tag of $80,000 to $90,000 — was vetoed by county planners for several reasons, including the fact that trials in that courtroom could last only three to four hours because the space would be shared with domestic court.

Another plan called for the conversion of a hearing room on the administration side of the building into a courtroom, at a cost of $210,000 to $320,000. Security concerns with separating this courtroom from the courts side of the building proved this plan’s undoing.

A third option called for a mobile trailer to be set up as a courtroom, with a set-up cost of $10,000 to $20,000 but an annual expense of $200,000 to $300,000 for court security. This plan was nixed due to logistics, possible location conflicts in the parking lot and overall appearance.

A fourth plan called for county leaders to do nothing until Fentress designed a master plan, but county planners and Jackson did not want to be forced to work in existing court space with the additional judges.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.