Commission signs contract for Riverton court design, has support from Chief Justice Kite

(Lander, Wyo.) – Last week the Fremont County Commission officially approved a contract with Reilly Johnson Architects for the design of the Riverton justice center.

The contract, which approves expenses of no more than $379,940, passed 3-2. Commissioners Keja Whiteman and Stephanie Kessler voted against the contract.

Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker and Deputy County Attorney Jodi Darrough went over some of the terms of the contract with the commission and both noted that several terms were adjusted in favor of the county. One such adjustment was the ability to terminate the contract with seven days notice instead of 30.

“I’m just worried about how we don’t know how we’re going to pay for this,” Kessler said.

Becker explained that the contract involves five phases: schematic, design development, construction documents, bid negotiation and construction. He said at any point, should the funding not become available, the county can halt the project.

The county has applied for a $2.6 million grant from the State Loan and Investment Board, committing to match the total amount awarded. Becker said the schematic would be done in time for the county to present to SLIB. The plan is to build the facility on two commercially zoned lots on Major Avenue. SLIB won’t act on grant requests until June.

Whiteman said she felt the county was putting the cart before the horse, saying that available funding should dictate what is done and not the other way around. “I can’t commit money to designing something that we don’t know how we’re going to build,” she said.

Earlier this month Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite wrote a letter to SLIB members expressing her support of the construction of the new Riverton justice center.

“You are familiar with the dire condition of the existing Riverton circuit court building and the incident that took place in August of 2012, where a bullet was fired into that metal building,” Kite wrote, thanking them for approving funding for Conex boxes that now surround the building. “In the incident last August, the bullet entered the wall behind the judge’s bench and had court been in session someone could have easily lost their life. … While a short-term solution has been addressed by Fremont County, it does not alleviate the security threat of housing a court office and courtroom in a metal building. A long-term solution is essential and must be addressed as soon as possible before a more serious incident occurs.”

Kite notes that while it is generally the responsibility of the county government to provide court facilities, many of the people who work in the building are employed by the state. She said she has met on several occasions with the judges and others about how to provide safety for the state employees and civillians who use the court. “It is clear that any solution will have to be a collaborative one involving state and county government,” she said.

“I commend the Fremont County Board of Commissioners for their proposal to build a new Justice Center in Riverton to house not only the circuit court, but the County Attorney’s office and the County Sheriff’s office as well,” Kite continued. “Your approval of Fremont County’s grant proposal of $2,625,000 will be the only way the safe facilities will become a reality for citizens in Fremont County in a reasonable timeframe.

“I am sure that you will have many deserving grant applications and that the funds available are limited. However, I suspect that no other application involves literally protecting the lives of state employees as well as other citizens.”

Other county news:

-The commission approved $1,000 of support to the Fremont County Wolf Coalition as it involves itself in countering lawsuits aimed at re-listing gray wolves. Whiteman and Kessler voted against the support. “I’m cautious about supporting independent litigation and the precedent that it sets,” Kessler said.

-The commission approved several cash transfers last week for various purposes, including moving funds for the Reilly Johnson contract. The commission also approved moving $5,300 from the cash reserves to get Family Planning through the fiscal year. Commission Chairman Doug Thompson said when the county took the program on it would have to be self-sustaining and that he wouldn’t support using other county funds for it. “I know we’re down a little bit,” Julie Twist said. “It’s looking about $14,000 healthier (than expected).” The supplemental funds were approved 4-1, with Thompson being the lone no vote. The funds will only be moved should Family Planning not secure other grant funds.