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New timetable, same need

Jun 28, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

SLIB said no to a grant for the Riverton justice center, but the effort will continue

Supporters of plans to build a new location in Riverton for court and sheriff's operations took a blow last week when the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board opted not to contribute any money to the "justice center" project in Riverton. Now it is back to the drawing board, but the paper isn't completely blank.

Two things are key to the future success of the project. First, the county owns a desirable location already for the new facility. The property sold at a steep discount to the county by the Major family years ago removes the need for the county to purchase real estate at full market price to build the justice center. SLIB's negative response to the county's grant application does not change that.

Second, and most importantly, is a realization from virtually everyone in key county leadership positions, and the general public, that the justice center project is a necessity -- not just for Riverton, but for Fremont County and Wyoming.

If there is anything good to be said about the discovery that someone had fired a rifle shot through the wall of the existing courthouse facility on South Federal Boulevard, it is that the shortcomings of the place no longer could be masked.

Anyone who had taken the time to notice, of course, already knew that the sheet metal facility that was never designed for the function it now must serve, was poor. But for the longest time, the county made do with a series of remodels, renovations, and other reconfigurations to keep the unsightly and ill-suited building limping along.

But the bullet hole in the wall thrust the issue more clearly into the public eye. It also attracted the attention of some state leaders, including the Chief Justice of Wyoming. Justice Marilyn Kite appeared before county leaders all but demanding a better headquarters for court activities in Fremont County's largest city.

If it took a rifle shot to do it, then so be it, but now there is irreversible consensus that a new facility in Riverton must be had.

In denying the grant request of more than $2 million, the State Loan and Investment Board suggested that the Wyoming Legislature would be a better source of funding. No doubt that will be one of the next steps the county explores in trying to see this through. Law-and-order issues often are popular with builders, which means they are popular with legislators.

The public education campaign that finally has succeeded in Fremont County now needs to be expanded statewide. Rare would be the legislator who sees the existing Riverton justice facilities and considers them to be adequate.

One suggestion would be for the current Riverton facility to be included on all tours of the area which commonly are conducted with legislative committees that meet in the city. Committee meetings during the interim period between legislative sessions occur around Wyoming rather than in Cheyenne, and there are a couple scheduled for Riverton in the very near future.

While those lawmakers are in town, let's get them down to South Federal Boulevard so they can see for themselves the poor accommodations for these important government functions. Then, when a vote before a legislative committee or the entire House or Senate comes along, lawmakers will know what they're talking about.

A long view is useful in facilities planning. In the case of a Riverton justice center it is more than just useful. It is now necessary. Plan A did not come to pass. It may well take Plan B, C or D to get it done.

The need for the new Riverton justice center has not changed, only the timetable.

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