Architects: New courthouse best option

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson During a Tuesday citizens committee meeting, architects from Rohde, May, Keller, McNamara Architecture of Albuquerque presented their groups plan for a Curry County judicial complex, addressing the Nov. 2 failure of two bonds designed to pay for the project.

Sharna Johnson

If Curry County has to choose between a new jail or courthouse as part of a proposed judicial complex, architects believe it should choose a courthouse.

The recommendation was made by architect Don May when asked by a community member what he would do if he were in the county’s shoes, considering voter rejection of two bond issues totaling $33 million aimed at correcting issues at the jail and courthouse.

May said the courthouse’s situation is cut and dry, because little can be done to alter the historical building.

“It’s not possible to satisfy current needs in the existing (facility),” he said.

The situation at the jail, however, needs more study and can still be changed if the community addresses the issue of jail population, which includes factors like locally determined bond and bail amounts and magistrate court sentencing guidelines.

“That’s not something I can solve with architecture,” May said. “We’ve got to lean toward district court first because the court has no other option and (other methods could) fix the (jail) population issues.”

The question came from retired newspaper publisher Wayland Thomas — one of eight citizens committee members who resigned in January after the commission ordered committee meetings closed to the public.

May’s recommendations came toward the end of a presentation he and two other architects made Tuesday afternoon to courthouse and jail citizens’ committees at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

About 25 people attended the presentation, which lasted more than three hours.

May said his group still believes that despite what voters decided Nov. 2, the plan created for Curry County remains the best way to address space and security concerns at the jail and courthouse.

The bonds proposed in November — one raising gross receipts taxes to generate $16.5 million and another increasing property taxes to raise $16.5 million — would have paid for property acquisitions, renovations and a new courthouse and jail on the way to creating a three-block judicial complex in downtown Clovis.

“Go back and do it in smaller increments,” May suggested. “The only thing you can do is take the long-range master plan and start hacking it down. There are some minor, incremental things that we can do in one bond question.”

May said steps can be taken to increase the security of the jail while building a new courthouse.

Of the total $90 million estimated for the completed complex, May said the bulk of the cost goes to the jail, due to “astronomical” jail population projections.

“The sentencing guidelines in this locale are higher than in other counties,” he said, explaining that nationwide trends show dropping incarceration rates, while Curry County is outpacing the rest of the state based on data his consultants studied.

Committee member Gloria Wicker asked architects how many plans were submitted to the county after their firm was hired to do a needs analysis and present options.

“Several,” May replied. “We never denied the county commission any ideas. Some of the ideas were absolutely asinine, and we (studied) them.”

May said in the last year he and his colleagues have given more than half a dozen public presentations in which those plans were discussed, until the scope was narrowed to the existing plan.

In 2010, the Albuquerque firm assessed the needs of the courts, jail and county departments to include the sheriff’s office and administrative offices.

The study involved looking at each entity’s projected growth and needs through 2025 and how they could fit while using existing county-owned facilities, combined with construction of new facilities.

Under the proposal, the existing courthouse would be home to an expanded sheriff’s office and a handful of other county offices when the courts move to the new courthouse.

Additional county offices would be moved to occupy the county-owned building in the 400 block of Gidding, which houses a post office branch and the district attorney’s office.

County Manager Lance Pyle told the group that while the same bond questions cannot be presented to voters until the 2012 general election, other questions could be placed on ballots.

The citizens’ committees are tasked with making recommendations to the county commission by April 19.