’Tis the season for wanting new digs. The new-and-improved Montezuma-Cortez High School will take shape south of Walmart in 2014 and 2015, aided by a hefty state grant and charitable taxpayers. Judicial and law enforcement officials are tossing around ideas for an upgraded 22nd District Court building — whether it’s an addition, remodel or new structure is unknown.
Cortez municipal government is getting in on the act as well. By most counts, the current city hall at 210 E. Main St. is too small, short on parking and unwieldy for citizens coming to take care of business. It was built in 1955.
At a work session on Tuesday, city councilors told architect Michael Bell what they felt was most important in a new facility. Bell’s firm, RMBA Architects, designed the Cortez police station and library remodel.
Council members’ task was to identify current needs, but also keep in mind future growth, since the new city hall would be used for at least 40 years.
City Manager Shane Hale said the building would be “overbuilt” by about 20 percent to prevent future annexes or ad hoc additions.
Hale also wanted it to be as accessible to Cortez residents as possible. Civic-minded groups like the Girl Scouts, League of Women Voters and Rotary Club should feel welcome to reserve space and meet there, he said.
“This should be the public’s facility. ‘Here’s your key, (give us) your $25 damage deposit, go forth and prosper,’” he said.
Hale cited the Bayfield Town Hall, built in 2008, as an inspiration. It features a wide central hallway on the first floor, with service windows corresponding to different departments like public works, parks and recreation. The layout is easy for residents to navigate and take care of business quickly.
Right now in Cortez, with the city hall’s maze-like floor plan, people tend to “wander the halls,” unsure of which way to go.
There was across-the-board criticism for the existing city council chambers. The room is too long and narrow, with poor acoustics and visibility. The horseshoe-shaped desk keeps citizens from catching the councilors’ comments. Talk of new designs at times grew facetious.
“How about Hollywood Squares?” quipped Mayor Dan Porter.
They also wanted a separate antechamber, connected to the main council room, for executive sessions, which are closed to the public. That way city council members would be the ones getting up to leave, instead of inconveniencing citizens in attendance.
An unpopular idea was a dedicated work space for city council to use during the week. All members seemed to think it unnecessary, given that most work from home on computers now.
Councilor Matt Keefauver said that space might be better served as a citizen information room, where people could learn about ordinances or the land-use code.
Amid the requests, the council made it clear no one was looking for opulence.
City Attorney Mike Green, and several councilors, said enhanced security was a priority.
Green said quicker exits inside municipal court would be smart, in the event of an angry or deranged intruder. Most new courtrooms and council chambers also have protective materials covering the desk fronts to duck behind for cover until police arrive.
Councilor Ty Keel was wary of overcompensating.
“We don’t want to let what could happen govern (the entire design),” he said.
Hale said there was no need for extravagant measures — amid jokes of suction tubes whisking councilors off to getaway cars — but that adopting “best practices” for new municipal buildings would be wise.
As for location, the city is weighing four different sites. Three are closely situated along Mildred Street: Centennial Park between the library and police station, the county-owned Justice Building, and the vacant lot north of Empire Street. Another site, next to the outdoor pool on the sand volleyball courts, was ruled out because an old deed sets that land aside for park uses only.
The venerable Calkins Building rounds out the list, which isn’t exhaustive or final. Better candidates could still surface down the road.
Councilors agreed a central location was best.
Shawna McLaughlin liked the idea of situating city hall amid the city-owned parks.
Keefauver emphasized “walkability,” being near enough to neighborhoods that walking and biking is an option.
Porter, seconded by several others, said demolishing the Justice Building and rebuilding on that site was his preferred choice.
“I hate to tear up more (park space),” he said.
County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, who attended the work session on an unrelated matter, chimed in his approval of the county getting the Justice Building off its hands.
“The county will give you a deal at the landfill,” he said, referring to the pile of rubble if it were demolished.
The Justice Building also houses the Bridge Emergency Shelter.
Hale said he’d already appeased acting director M.B. McAfee that the Bridge would find another home if evicted.
Along with city council, Bell is also collecting input from department heads.