An abandoned Kmart shopping center in Craig, Colorado will soon be home for the county's courthouse, as well as other administrative offices and county business. This comes after the old building, a 100-year-old structure with a 60-year-old wrap added on, started to really show its age.
"Efficiencies, safety, security, all of those things have become an issue with that building," Moffat County Commissioner Melody Villard explained.
The former building includes crumbling infrastructure underneath the structure, degrading iron piping leading to lead water issues and no modern solution for modern problems -- like trying to run wire across the building while the walls are built of sandstone.
Even simple everyday courtroom procedures were affected by the old setup, with a lack of privacy needed for some parts of a trial.
"Keeping our jury pool separated from our courtroom, keeping witnesses for either side of a trial separated is not something we have the ability to do and some of the infrastructure," Villard said.
When county commissioners were tasked with building a new courthouse, they did an initial price estimate and learned trying to add on to the current building would not only remove the parking lot, but cost $45 million to do so. Building in the empty shell of the Kmart -- long abandoned in town -- would only cost $23 million in comparison, and they would get a lot more out of the build as well.
This project was also aided by Sen. Michael Bennet, who was able to secure $4.6 million of federal funding to help with an additional courtrooms construction. All of this was possible without raising taxes on residents thanks to some smart budgeting and smart shopping by commissioners. Pinching pennies has become very important to a town suddenly staring down the barrel of a forced economic production shift.
Colorado's most northwestwardly county has been good at producing coal and oil and gas for many years. Now with its major coal power plant closing and additional restrictions to the oil and gas industry, the county estimates around 45% of its tax revenue will dry up in one go.
"When we look at what we are doing in the future it is not all doom and gloom, there is some growth and opportunities," Villard said. "But we definitely need to plan for the future and how we are going to utilize the money that we do have."
Construction estimates right now put the start of 2023 as the opening date for the new building, although Villard said that is always subject to change. She did mention they were "surprisingly on time so far" considering all the challenges the pandemic has presented with building projects.
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