By Mary Alice Murphy

[Editor's Note: The meeting went for a bit more than five hours, with a very short break. Several articles will cover the presentations and the review of the regular agenda, in addition to county and commissioner reports. Part 2 will cover the presentation on the vision for the old Grant County Jail.]

Amy Bell of Groundworks Studio gave the presentation. "We are assisting with the public outreach program." She also introduced Rebecca Cook of the New Mexico Environment Department who was on the call.

"The purpose of the virtual sessions was to get public input," Bell said.

Cook said she works with the Brownfield division of the NMED. "We are funded through the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to get facilities like this one repurposed. We also did the environmental assessment of the property. If you have other projects, reach out to us. These are funded through no cost to the project owner."

Bell said the presentation would cover the visionary process summary. "We held two virtual meetings, conducted a survey and formed focus groups. We are finalizing the report. We had excellent participation from your community."

Members of the community have formed a steering committee and they meet monthly to provide community oversight of the process. The committee consisted of neighbors of the site, members of the judicial community, local businesses and municipal and county representatives, as well as members of the arts and cultural community.

The extensive and comprehensive vision statement envisions turning the area, including the old jail building, which will probably be demolished due to asbestos, mold and water leaks, into a judicial complex. The full vision statement can be read at this link: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/2831882622954a0b89ea899c7c36c2e5

The values that should be upheld include community, diversity and inclusion, heritage and history, partnerships and safety.

Because the historic Courthouse, which is on the state register of historic buildings does not support current technological requirements of the courts, judicial uses are likely to be moved out into a new building.

A number of graphics are part of the report completed in September. A general program was developed.

The final NMED report for the regulated building materials and limited subsurface soils assessment can be viewed at this link: https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:098d6bdf-f688-4889-9918-6b56980a73b0#pageNum=1 The NMED is working on obtaining cost projections for building remediation related to the asbestos.

"We pulled together user profiles to determine what different groups of people would need to be accommodated at the judicial complex, including what modes of travel are used to get to and from the campus," Bell said. "We assessed the needs and wants of the users. We determined that we need different levels of access for the general public and for those using the more secure services."

She said one critical item was to ensure privacy for the neighbors, but not block their views of the area.

Specific elements included a new building or a building addition, as well as adequate staff and public parking. Lighting for safety is needed with respect for dark skies.

Groundwork Studio developed two concept layouts. Concept Layout A envisions a three-story new building for the district and magistrate courts, with repurposing of the historical courthouse. A green buffer will provide privacy to neighbors. The Black Street building will likely be repurposed as well, and Black Street may become a one-way street for traffic flow, although that has not been decided.

Concept Layout B is for a new larger two-story building, with Black Street to be one-way. A bridge would go from the building to the courthouse. Similar to the uses in Concept A, the secure court services would take place in the new building, with historic, meeting and potential art activities in the old courthouse.

Recommendations for next steps include things the city could do immediately, such as traffic flow, parking and a buffer to neighboring properties, improving accessibility to the area and bicycle improvements, as well as well as restoration and improvements at the historic courthouse and grounds. Mid-term steps requiresan architectural feasibility study, demolition of the old jail and construction of the new facility, with public art and artist involvement in site development.

"We would encourage continuing public engagement in the process," Bell said.

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce asked if the consultants had looked at state law and "what is required when dealing with district attorneys. I don't want it to be not adequate for their needs."

Bell said she was not familiar with the exact language in statute, but "we did include court staff and the district attorneys in coming up with our plans."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said the commissioners are required to do the whole project at the request of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. "That is how this planning was funded."

Ponce said the county is obligated to provide space for the district attorneys. "State law requires it, but we do not get funding for it."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said the project began with "us wanting to know what to do with the old jail. Demolition can be done. At the time, when she was still Chief Justice (Judith) Nakamura said she thought the state courts could pay for moving the magistrate court to this project area for enhanced security."

Chief Procurement Officer Randy Hernandez said the county is bound to house the district court, but "we need a lease for magistrate court."

Edwards noted that the 6th Judicial District Court is saying the current space in the courthouse is not adequate.

Hernandez said if plans go forward to include district courts, magistrate courts and agencies, such as CYFD in the new facility, "we would have separate leases for the magistrate courts and the individual agencies."

Ponce said the big question is whether the envisioned facility will be adequate for all the users.

Bell said the Judges Tom Stewart and Jim Foy were involved in the discussions, as well as Magistrate Judge Maurine Laney.

Edwards said the plans are "clearly very preliminary. I appreciate the work that has gone into it. What is actually the next step for what the courts want?"

Bell said she thinks Magistrate Court 1 is moving into the Black Street building. The county needs two magistrate court rooms. "I think this process is the jumping off point to continue the conversation between the county and the courts."

Planning and Community Development Director Priscilla Shoup agreed that it is something the county can move forward with. "There will be probably a phase 2 assessment for demolition and then the feasibility study."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said the item is No. 10 on the ICIP (infrastructure capital improvement plan).

Shoup replied that the funding is needed for the feasibility study.

Many of the examples in the report were in larger cities.

Bell said they were included more to point out that some facilities also house other agencies, not just the magistrate and district courts. "I'm in favor of including other agencies. The plan is for a 4,500 square foot building, either two- or three-story. We looked at the Roswell Judicial Complex and it houses other agencies. It would be important for you to work with an architect."

Browne asked if the three-story building might be taller than the courthouse.

Bell said it could be and some of the neighbors thought that could be a problem.

The next article will begin with the Grant County Community Health Council update.

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