By Joshua Scheer, reporter, County10.com
(Lander, Wyo.) – Fremont County Commission Tuesday talked pros and cons about potential sites for the future Riverton justice center and subsequently removed one location from consideration.
Robert Johnson of Reilly Johnson Architecture presented the commission with potential layouts of combined court, sheriff and attorney facilities at a property on the Fairgrounds adjacent to the existing circuit court facility, a remodel proposal of the former Armory building (now called the Fremont Center) and a new facility on two commercial lots on the Major property.
Johnson said the top cost to include all three entities on the two vacant sites would be $5.2 million at the most. A remodel of the Armory would run around $4 million. Much discussion surrounded the possibility of just building a new court facility and he said that would cost about $3 million at either site, most likely a little lower.
At the fairgrounds:
This facility, Johnson said, would be about 16,400 square feet. The shape he presented was like a T, which he said was necessary to include the desired features in the odd-shaped lot. Johnson said there’s a concrete slab on part of the lot that would have to go, along with potential soil troubles underneath. He said he also discovered a pipe at the location that he has not yet been able to determine a reason for its existence.
Parking was named as a problem of the site, along with potential traffic issues regarding the the couple weeks of the annual county fair.
“There’s no fluff or blue sky in any of this,” Johnson said of the design on the site. “This is lean.”
The Armory “works absolutely perfectly,” Johnson said. The size, at 19,000 square feet, is larger than was originally considered. He said it was simple to implement all of the facility needs into the existing shell, thereby cutting some construction costs.
Johnson said there would be some flood plain issues, but he believed the investment could be made to make the site viable.
Downsides to the site would be losing the Armory as the community-based facility that it is today. Johnson estimated revenues from events there are $40-50,000 annually.
Sheriff Skip Hornecker said the Armory building was the most appealing of options to his office. He also said he foresee issues at the site regarding parking during the fair.
Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker was not in favor of the site. “I think it takes too much out of the community,” he said. “In essence its a community center for Riverton.”
Chairman Doug Thompson agreed, calling it “unacceptable.”
Ultimately, the commission agreed by consensus to no longer pursue the former armory building.
Johnson didn’t do a full design on the Major property site, because it is wide open and ust about any layout would work. He said while the Armory’s layout is good, it could be improved upon there. He said he spoke the City of Riverton and now believes that the site is zoned properly and a deal could be reached to extend Gasser Road to the edge of the property. In answer to a question, Johnson said the site might not have enough space for parking. He believed additional space could be added to the west of the facility through a zoning change, which would require a public hearing process. He advised to do that after the building was constructed.
Becker said he saw pros and cons with both the Major and fairgrounds sites. Thompson said he preferred Major with all three entities. Commissioner Keja Whiteman suggested building only a court facility on the fairgrounds site, keeping it close to sheriff and attorney offices. Commissioner Larry Allen said he was leaning toward the Major property. Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said she was still concerned about funding, but if the money was there she would prefer the Major site.
Becker said he had found a little more than $1 million in county funds that could be rearranged to help with funding. The county has applied for a $2.6 million grant from the State Loan and Investment Board, committing to a match for the total amount awarded.
Discussion followed regarding the stand alone facility and Fremont County Fair Executive Director Barney Cosner suggested looking into attaching a standalone courtroom to the existing facility and armoring the rest of the building. Becker said a brief look into armoring the building suggests a cost of at least $400,000. Hornecker said there are maintenance issues there as well.
Some talk surrounded doing a standalone courtroom at the Major property. Hornecker said that could cause problems with his office traveling between and responding to emergencies. He said he would want space in any new structure for security staff.
Youth Services Director Chuck Kratz also asked for some office space consideration.
The commission deferred further discussion to allow new County Attorney Mike Bennett to meet with Hornecker and to allow Johnson to look into attaching a new courtroom to the existing building.