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Santa Fe County contemplates new life for judicial complex

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe County took some tentative steps Tuesday toward creating new life in the old judicial complex on Catron Street with the release of a feasibility study on the property and some interest by the County Commission in a plan to raze the site and build something new.

Studio Southwest Architects presented several ideas at the County Commission’s meeting, including renovating the building, renovating with some construction, and demolishing the building and constructing a new one.

Selling the 2.3-acre site and nearby county-owned property, including the main county building on Grant Street, and building a new county complex in a more remote location was also presented as an option.

Studio Southwest Architects was hired by the county last year to determine “the highest and best use for the site and structure” of the old judicial complex. The property has been largely vacant since the new courthouse opened in June at Montezuma Avenue and Galisteo Street.

The ideas in the feasibility study were presented in the context of what the county could do with its other downtown buildings and how county operations could be consolidated.

“A fully renovated or new building on the (old judicial complex) site will result in savings on annual lease/(operation and maintenance) expenses, a modern/efficient workplace environment, greatly improved air quality, daylighting, energy and water conservation, convenience for the constituency, improved staff performance/interaction, and dedicated parking for county employees and the public,” the feasibility study said.

Studio Southwest Architects is recommending the county raze the old judicial complex and construct a new building and a 329-space two-level parking garage with one underground level. Under the plan, the county might also reap some revenue by selling 50 parking spaces to the nearby First Presbyterian Church.

County commissioners expressed concerns about whether digging into the site might present archeological or – as the county experienced with the new courthouse – gasoline contamination issues. David Dekker of Studio Southwest Architects replied that preliminary monitoring on both has started and no major problems have yet been discovered.

Several commissioners showed interest in the demolish-and-build option recommended by Studio Southwest Architects. There appeared to be little inclination to sell either the old judicial complex or the Grant Street building.

County commissioners said they want more time to review the feasibility study. They also asked county staff to find ways to solicit public input on the project.

The cost of the various plans presented by Studio Southwest Architects ranges from $16.4 million for the most basic renovation to over $38 million. The recommended plan would cost nearly $27 million. All the plans include $3 million to renovate the main county building on Grant Street.

The county has about $6 million in budgeted funds set aside for the project, county staff said.

Selling the old judicial complex could bring the county $5.9 million, while selling the main county building could offer $4 million in revenue.

The feasibility study noted that Santa Fe County’s downtown office space varies in quality and the main county building on Grant Street is, in particular, “overly crowded with employees in inefficient/substandard work spaces.”

Currently, the county pays annual leases of $299,183 for downtown offices, which includes $19,500 for leased parking spaces, the feasibility study said.

The building that is the old judicial complex was built in 1937 as a public school. However, Dekker of Southwest Studio Architects said the building has been modified so much that the original school is essentially unrecognizable from an architectural standpoint.