Commissioners hear jail, courthouse proposal

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Curry County Commissioners Caleb Chandler, left, and Wendell Bostwick listen Tuesday as County Maintenance Supervisor Lee Delk gives a presentation on options for the courthouse.

Sharna Johnson

Curry County commissioners Tuesday heard a new and far less expensive plan to address jail and courthouse issues using existing county facilities.

Under the proposal, presented by county maintenance supervisor Lee Delk, the county would renovate the first floor of the county owned postal building on Gidding Street to accommodate the offices of the treasurer, assessor and clerk’s offices.

The district attorney’s office, located on the second floor, would remain in place.

“I think this one is viable. Expensive but viable,” Delk said.

“I think it’s a much more practical application, plus there’s no stairs over there. It’s ground level so I’ve met (the Americans with Disabilities Act) before I do anything.”

District Judge Robert Orlik, who uses a wheel chair and has said previously the existing courthouse has caused him accessibility issues, said he was agreeable, as long as “any movement that we make must be ADA compliant.”

The new plan would keep the courts and the sheriff’s office in the courthouse.

“If they move the offices it would basically be a judicial complex. It could be closed down,” Sheriff Matt Murray told commissioners.

The concept was introduced during a more than eight-hour meeting in the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Library and came after the commission heard requests from citizens’ committees for more time to study issues.

Commissioners heard the committees concerns but took no action to extend the Tuesday deadline.

Delk said based on rough estimates renovations would cost about $3 million, including upgrades that have to be done to the building regardless of who occupies it.

“It sounds to me like a whole lot of money but it sounds like a whole lot less than if you started from scratch somewhere else,” Citizens Committee member Gloria Wicker said.

District Attorney Matt Chandler expressed concern to commissioners regarding talk of moving his offices back to the courthouse to free up the space for county offices.

Chandler said when his office occupied the top floor of the courthouse in 2004, with about 40 personnel, they had staff working in closets and hallways.

They also struggled to offer victims the confidentiality they are entitled to and to perform the functions required of prosecuting criminal cases.

Less than four years ago, they invested nearly $200,000 in renovations and improvements to their current office, adding security measures, soundproof rooms for meetings and case interviews and more. Things he said the county would have to go to the expense of removing if they decided to move his office.

“What appears a viable solution is to do what Mr. Delk suggests … I ask you not to move the DA’s office back into a situation we were able to move out of,” he said.

“We will get our job done and we will work for and serve this community no matter where you put us … (but) we as the district attorneys office do not want to move back into the courthouse.”

District Judge Teddy Hartley also advocated for the district attorney’s office to stay where it is.

“His space is dovetailed to what he needs,” Hartley said. “I don’t want to mess with his space, I think it’s where it needs to be.”

Commissioners seemed receptive to the proposal and sensitive to Chandler’s concerns.

“I agree, we don’t want to move backward,” Commissioner Dan Stoddard said.

“(I think we should) take under advisement everything that’s been said here and take the recommendations that we’ve heard here and try to plug them into the budget,” Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said.

“I encourage the committees to stay involved.”

Officials have cited security and space issues at the courthouse as reason for posing two bond questions to voters in November totaling $33 million to build a new courthouse and jail.

The bonds were heavily defeated, leading the commission to create citizen committees to examine the issues and present recommendations at the Tuesday meeting.

Commissioners also voted to rescind an August 2009 security resolution to close all but one entrance to the courthouse. They replaced it with a plan to create security checkpoints at the front and south entrances, closing the building’s west entrance to the public.

Murray told commissioners estimates to implement the plan involve one-time costs of $258,000 for equipment and $235,000 annual reoccurring including costs to hire five deputies to staff the stations.

“It’s a viable plan. We’re not spending a whole lot of money but we are securing the courthouse,” Murray said. “We would not have to do any remodeling of the courthouse … This is a temporary solution so we can get started with security.”

Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said the proposal was unanimously approved by the courthouse security committee.

Specifics of the new security plan are expected to be further evaluated during budget planning next month.

“I’m for this. It’s another Band-Aid but it’s necessary,” Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said.

Bostwick expressed concerns about the costs of the security plan.

“I don’t know how much more security it’s going to be for half a million dollars,” he said. “It’s another Band-Aid, and these half-million dollar Band-Aids get expensive.”