Updated: June 6, 2005 at 12:00 am
The opening of the expanded El Paso County Judicial Building has been moved up three months to April because construction is ahead of schedule. The early completion will allow the courthouse and a nearby parking garage to stay within the project’s $40 million construction budget, county administrator Terry Harris said. Part of the expansion — an east-facing entrance that will reduce lines at security checkpoints — is scheduled to open in January, Harris said. When construction is complete, the courthouse will more than double in size to 369,000 square feet, making it one of the largest buildings in the county, Harris said. The expanded courthouse is expected to have more foot traffic than any other building in the county, with more than 1 million people entering it every year, Harris said. The second busiest is the Colorado Springs Airport, which handles about 950,000 people per year, he said. Outside the courthouse, 20 E. Vermijo Ave., a crane last week extended a column that will support the top floor of a five-story tower going up along Cascade Avenue. Just north of the existing courthouse, workers framed walls inside a glassed-in area that will become the new entrance and lobby. A block away, at 326 S. Tejon St., a 400-space parking garage is under construction north of the 4th Judicial District Probation Department’s offices, which will be torn down. Every weekday, motorists, pedestrians and construction workers in the two-block construction area navigate a dusty maze of chain-link fences, safety cones, barrels, detour signs and road closures. Interior remodeling, including installation of elevator shafts at the west end of the courthouse, will begin in August, said 4th Judicial District Administrator Vicki Villalobos. The new elevators will connect to an underground parking lot for judges, giving them secure access to the courthouse. “When we start the internal construction, that’s when things are going to really get disruptive around here,” Villalobos said. “The public is going to have to deal with the noise and banging and distraction that comes with a big construction project.” The courthouse is being built to grow with the county, Harris said. The two top floors of the five-story tower will be shells when it opens next year, and courtrooms will be built as they are needed in the next 15 years, he said. Each floor will cost $1 million to finish, Harris said. “It’s not cheap,” he said, “but at least we won’t have to build a new building.” Eventually, the courthouse probably will expand to the location now occupied by the maximum security Metro Jail north of the courthouse, which is being closed after a consultant in November declared it dangerous, Harris said. All but a handful of the 360 inmates in the jail have been moved to the county’s recently expanded Criminal Justice Center on East Las Vegas Street, Harris said. That facility will require construction of a maximum-security pod to handle the extra prisoners, he said. The county borrowed $46 million in 2003 to pay for the courthouse expansion, parking garage and the first three years of payments. The county used certificates of participation, or COPS, a financing tool that lets the government borrow money without voter approval. The project adds nine courtrooms, some of which will replace smaller, technologically outdated courtrooms in the existing building. The expanded courthouse will house the probation department, now in a separate building south of the courts. The jury assembly room will be much bigger than the existing one and will be on the first floor instead of the fourth. A day-care center will be in the building, providing baby-sitting for parents serving as jurors or taking care of other court business.