Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The current Stillwater County Courthouse has structural and space issues.

Courthouse future in hands of the taxpayers

After nearly three years of studies and controversy, four possible plans to improve the county courthouse space and aging problems have been presented to the public.
In three public meetings last week, approximately 75 people heard a presentation by Spectrum Group Architects and then posed questions.
Did any of the options allow room for growth?
What is the long-term cost comparison in maintaining and operating new buildings versus remodeled buildings?
Are there safety concerns regarding the immediate proximity of a large day-care, an assisted living facility and schools?
What about parking?
There was also strong sentiment voiced regarding trying to keep the courthouse due it its historical value and importance in the community.
What does law enforcement and the courts want?
At the final meeting, Commissioner Maureen Davey said she had learned several things from the meetings: The courthouse is important to people, doing things right and space is important.
“My mind has changed,” said Davey of the alternative she had been favoring.
The price tag on the four alternatives range from $6.37 million to $17.54 million. Commissioner Maureen Davey acknowledged that prior to the public meetings, she had favored what had been called Option 1, the remodel of the old hospital with all county offices being moved there. That was appealing largely because the county already owns the old hospital with the remodel estimated at around $2.65 million. However, the old hospital is not big enough to hold all the county offices and serious concerns with court safety have been raised.
When asked at the Columbus meeting how much money had been earmarked for this project, Commissioner Gerald Dell said they had set aside $4.3 million in a STIP (state investment program). It was the first time the commissioners had divulged that amount, although they had been asked previously. That money is actually in a number of places and kept track of through the county’s finance office. That $4.3 million is a combination of PILT funds, County Capital Improvement Fund, Metal Mines License Tax, and Oil and Natural Gas Production Tax.
Documents & Details
Although it took Spectrum nearly two years to complete the options package feasibility study, only two of the four options were sketched out and put on display for the public. They can also be found on the county’s website at
Details of the two alternatives were limited to the proposed location of the offices, square footage numbers, building construction costs and building cost per square foot.
Spectrum Group Architect Gary Levine said the remaining two options were not “boarded” or developed more because they involved land purchases that obviously may or may not happen.
Spectrum’s handouts changed for each meeting due to errors discovered with the estimated mill levy impact analysis as well as an extra $550,500 found in two categories by a citizen who attended the Columbus meeting. Additionally, a six page “Stillwater Site Comparisons” document was made available at the Columbus and Park City meetings but not in Absarokee.

Spectrum Controversy
Spectrum itself fell under questioning at the Park City meeting by an attendee who asked if the business was the same one involved with the Hardin incident. Spectrum Architect Gary Levine said no, that there was a Spectrum Engineering business who people often confuse with them. When a second attendee corrected the location, and said it was the Lame Deer school incident, Levine then admitted that it was the company involved in that.
Spectrum and DPS Co. out of Boyd were hired for a project involving the multi-phase design and construction of a new school adjacent to the old school’s gym. Both were fired by the Lame Deer School Board approximately 11 months ago for what an external evaluation commissioned by the school board said was excessive design fees totaling $336,000, according to an article in the Billings Gazette.
Levine said Spectrum settled out of court.

The next steps
At the meetings commissioners said there would be a comment period for at least a couple of months and citizens could call, email or write with their recommendations. The Tuesday morning’s regularly held commissioner meeting, they said there would be more news in the next few weeks.