(Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker, right, walked the audience through the floor plan of the facility. Joshua Scheer photo.)

(Riverton, Wyo.) – Wednesday night, the Fremont County Commission held a public meeting at Riverton City Hall to gather input from residents regarding the proposed construction of a new Riverton Justice Center.

Few more than 10 people attended, and most were either public officials or regular users of the existing court building.

Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker led the meeting, recapping the background of the planned building. The existing facility near the Fremont County Fairgrounds was never intended to be a courthouse, but it has been used as such since the early 1980s. Becker, and Riverton Circuit Court Judge Wesley Roberts, both said that several safety studies had been conducted over the last 15 years and as many improvements as possible have been made.

The driving factor behind pursuing a new facility now, Becker said, was the bullet hole found penetrating the courtroom in Summer 2012. Over the last year, the commission looked at several different existing buildings to move the court, sheriff and county attorney’s offices to, but ultimately it has pursued the construction of a new building at the intersection of Major and Gasser roads. The 2.5 acres are already owned by the county, Becker said.

Becker walked the crowd through the floor plan, pointing out safety improvements and room for all three departments to grow. The proposed design calls for a roughly 14,900-square-foot building, which represents a growth over the existing 9,600-square-foot facility.

The current total estimated cost of the project is $4.929 million, Becker said. The county is hoping to receive about half the cost from the state during next year’s budget process in the Legislature, but there are no guarantees at this point. $379,940 have been expended so far for the design. Coupled with┬áthe value of the land and funds already set aside, Becker estimates the county will need to come up with a little more than $1.84 million.

He has proposed borrowing from the county’s reserve fund, and at a 2 percent interest rate over 10 years, the county would pay back about $205,000 annually.

When asked when taxpayers would know whether or not the county would move forward with construction and what that decision might hinge upon, Becker and the other commissioners present (Keja Whiteman, Stephanie Kessler and Larry Allen) declined to comment. “We’re going to take things as we can,” Becker said.

Noting the repayment amount is roughly 1 percent of the county’s general fund budget, Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett asked why the county couldn’t move forward with a larger design for even more growth. He later acknowledged that as currently designed, his office would be able to grow by three personnel if needed.

Public Defender Devon Petersen asked the county to consider adding one small office for the public defender’s staff to use between hearings. “It would be very helpful to have some space there,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it would have to be much.”

There are a couple rooms designated for attorneys, both in civil and criminal cases, to meet with clients. There is also a no-pass glass meeting room. Petersen said he’s never felt threatened by any of his clients and often he needs to have his clients read court documents and sign papers, a situation that the n0-pass glass would inhibit.

Roberts said he couldn’t imagine a place where the public defenders could have their own office, but he said the court would always be willing to help accommodate needs.

Roberts also suggested making one of the meeting rooms at the back of the courtroom have glass, so that journalists could set up cameras there and not disrupt the rest of the court.

Undersheriff Ryan Lee and Roberts praised the county and the architects at Reilly Johnson for their work. “I think it’s good where it’s at, as far as we’re concerned,” Lee said. Defender Kate Strike also thanked the county for the thought that went into the design.