Officials say now best time to build judicial complex

Sharna Johnson

Curry County could have a new jail and courthouse within two years if a $33 million bond to bankroll a new judicial complex is passed by voters.

Albuquerque architect Don May said detailed designing of the facilities would take about a year with a little more than a year for construction.

“In our minds and (based on) what we know the sooner we get this done the better we’re going to be,” County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said.

Bostwick said the existing jail, which has been described as having an “abysmal physical plant design,” is in desperate need of replacement.

“If we continue down this path that we currently are on … we are dealing with a time bomb,” Bostwick said. Under current conditions, he said, it’s a matter of time before the county is faced with a lawsuit. “I think that’s all in the back of our minds.”

And Bostwick said he believes with current economic conditions, construction and finance costs are probably lower than they will ever be again.

“We couldn’t get started at a more opportune time,” Bostwick said.

Planners believe the first phase of a master plan for the judicial complex may be the only phase needed and that it is the most important.

Wednesday it was announced that implementing the full master plan could cost as much as $90 million.

Phase one of the four-phase plan would build a new four-story detention center, courthouse and involve renovations and improvements to other facilities.

And each phase of the plan can stand independent of the others.

May said that while he understands $90 million is, “somewhat of a shocking number,” it is not set in stone and phase one is, “the known quantity.”

“(Phase one) will meet and slightly exceed current needs,” May said. “If inmate population starts to curve before 2025, we may not have to incur those costs.”

In the November general election, county residents will be asked to vote on the plan, which would be paid for through a .25 percent increase in gross receipts taxes and a $16.5 million general obligation bond paid for through property tax increases.

The completed megaplex would consist of more than a dozen buildings; some existing but remodeled, others born of new construction. It would occupy the area between Main and Mitchell streets from Seventh Street, where the courthouse now lies, to 10th Street, occupied by private properties.

The project would be the most expansive — and expensive — construction project Curry County has embarked on in its 100-year history and seeks to address county needs until 2025, officials said.

Officials say the solutions proposed by phase one will resolve contentious issues the county has faced in the recent past such as courthouse security and structural flaws in the jail.

“It would be an incredible change and improvement,” said District Judge Robert Orlik.

Orlik, who recalled being carried down the stairs in his wheelchair by five men when he became stranded on the third floor of the courthouse, said beyond security and space concerns, the first phase of the plan would also resolve handicap accessibility issues in the outdated courthouse.