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BoCC resumes search for county campus site

Archuleta County personnel are again on the hunt for a suitable site at which to build a new county campus.

Jim Lichty, of Archetype Design Group, Inc., spoke to select county personnel in a work session Dec. 10, reviewing past progress toward a new county campus.

Previous work ceased in 2007 due to the county’s financial meltdown.

“What we’re doing is restarting the process because it’s a long process,” Commissioner Bob Moomaw said. “I just felt it needed to be started again so we’ll be ready when we have the finances.”

“Now that we’ve sort of stabilized with the county, we acknowledged that we really needed to get moving on planning for new facilities with the county,” county administrator Greg Schulte said at the beginning of the work session.

Lichty presented the history of the work done under a previous Board of County Commissioners, including identification of possible sites and square footages (around 133,000 total, split between the justice and administrative sides), and development of potential plans for some of the sites.

The commissioners and county staff intend to pick up on the process where it was left off under their predeccessors.

“We aren’t going back to the very beginning,” Moomaw said, adding that they would stick with the choice to have a campus setting and would examine three sites that were looked at previously — on Hot Springs Boulevard, at the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 84 (dubbed the Mountain Crossing site), and at the fairgrounds site on U.S. 84 (the Western Heritage Site).

Lichty showed those at the work session a number of sites, many of which were eliminated, that were bandied about previously, including locations in Cloman Industrial Park, near Aspen Village, and on U.S. 160 on Put Hill, as well as the Mountain Crossing, Western Heritage and Hot Springs Boulevard sites.

A former Board of County Commissioners weighted the options relative to the following criteria to determine the strength and viability of the sites: adequacy of site, political development autonomy, development site cost, property accessibility, planning and zoning compatibility and infrastructure efficiency, Lichty explained.

Of the contemplated sites, the Mountain Crossing and Western Heritage locations were deemed the strongest, and the Hot Springs Boulevard, already county-owned, was considered despite a deed restriction preventing a jail from being built on the land, Lichty said.

“The next step will be to specifically look at those three and their pros and cons,” Moomaw said. “Certainly cost is a factor in that.”

Commissioner John Ranson said he struggles with moving forward with the plans in the current financial climate, but hopes the county can cut down on costs, such as by doing some of the work themselves.

“I think we can do a lot of the leg work ourselves and try to narrow it down to a couple different choices,” Ranson said.

Part of the work is balancing location with cost and funding.

Ranson said he hopes a desirable location downtown won’t cause the BoCC to sacrifice a smart financial plan.

“To me, we’ve got to look at the land cost and the development cost together,” Ranson said, adding that he hopes to keep the new campus near the downtown business district.

Because the project could be years in the making, Moomaw indicated that funding was open at this point, but that funds could come via grants, a bond issue, a rise in the mill levy or a combination thereof.

No matter the source, Moomaw said the county is “extremely aware” that any funding source has to be sustainable.

Ranson said the county is setting aside some money, though not enough, in the 1A Facilities Fund.

In any case, the county has time to fine tune its funding.

Moomaw explained that it is “not a front-burner item” and would take at least another year to choose a site. He also said he would be surprised to see a new facility built sooner than five years from now.

Ranson similarly estimated that it would be three to seven years before anything would be built, but said , “On a long-term project, I don’t think there’s a bad time to start planning.”