Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The current Stillwater County courthouse is too small to house all current offices and suffers from numerous aging problems.

May 5 marks next step in courthouse project

After nearly three years of studies, controversies and meetings regarding the courthouse space issue, the time has come for the next formal step.
That step is a public hearing next Tuesday, May 5, at which taxpayers can give their input on the five options developed on the proposed courthouse space project.
According to a legal ad being run, “The purpose of the hearing is to accept comments from proponents and opponents regarding five (5) options identified by the planning process for providing additional county office space for county services.”
The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the Stillwater County Pavilion in Columbus.
The options range from $6 million to $17 million and were developed after two feasibility studies were conducted over the course of approximately three years costing approximately $70,000. The options were presented in three public meetings held in January by the commissioners and Spectrum Group Architects.
The four options, or alternatives as they are referred to, are as follows:
•Alternate 1: Remodeling the old hospital and the first floor of the current courthouse: $6.37 million
•Alternate 2: Remodeling the current courthouse and construction of a new law & justice facility at the courthouse: $15.32 million
•Alternate 3: Remodeling the current courthouse and construction of a new law & justice facility on a new site: $17.17 million
All of the information presented by Spectrum can be reviewed at the courthouse and also on the county’s website at http://www.stillwater.mt.gov/

A rocky, controversial road
The road to May 5 has from the beginning, been fraught with controversy. Early in the project District Judge Blair Jones accused the commissioners of “surreptitious” behavior for allegedly not being forthcoming with all the details.
Specifically, Jones contended that the commissioners were looking only at remodeling the old hospital and no other options. He based that accusation on a conversation with a Spectrum architect.
Additionally, Jones, as well as Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy, strongly opposed the idea of having courtrooms at the old hospital due to safety concerns.
The commissioners strongly denied the allegations that they were already focusing in one option and eventually, the project’s scope was expanded to include more than just the remodel of the old hospital.
Brophy, Undersheriff Chip Kem and some citizens have also voiced concern with Spectrum Group Architects due to its involvement in the Lame Deer School project, as well as what has been called incomplete and some inaccurate information presented at the January public meetings.