County Commission hires architects to plan new Riverton court facility; A site has not been selected

The Fremont County Commission has yet to pick a site for the future Riverton courthouse. (Joshua Scheer photo)

The Fremont County Commission has yet to pick a site for the future Riverton courthouse. (Joshua Scheer photo)

By Joshua Scheer, reporter,

(Lander, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Commission has hired Reilly Johnson Architects to help begin planning for the future of a new Riverton court facility, but the elected officials have yet to agree on a final location.

For $349,000, the commission voted unanimously to hire Reilly Johnson Architects. A final contract will be signed at a later date. The county has worked with the firm in past years in a consultant capacity. The current courthouse on South Federal Boulevard has been surrounded by Conex boxes as an added security measure. Concerns about the security soundness of the building were raised following the discovery of a bullet hole in one of the walls last year.

Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker, who has been facilitating the discussion between the county and the architects, introduced the matter on Tuesday. He said if the county engaged with Reilly Johnson, on March 4 the firm would come to Riverton and evaluate both an empty lot on the Fremont County Fairgrounds and the Major property north of Riverton Memorial Hospital. Through looking at the sites and meeting with involved entities, Becker said the plan would be for the firm present rough site plans and cost models to the commission on March 5. This would help inform them on what site to pick as the preferred location.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman then suggested another site to be considered.

“I can’t rule out the Armory Building as a potential remodel site,” Whiteman said. She admitted in the past remodels haven’t proven to be as cost effective as new construction, but because the Armory used to house a shooting range, is appropriately sized and is primarily a shell of a building, she thought it should be considered. “It’s a pretty stout building,” she said. “I don’t think you’re going to have gunfire impact it as much as the current building.”

“I wish you had said that before” he worked with Reilly Johnson, Becker said.

Whiteman said given the size and overal cost of the project (more than $5 million) it would be worth spending a little more to look at other options. Commissioner Stephanie Kessler agreed. “I would rather spend the money if we need to for these guys to give us the information so we know we’re making an informed decision,” Kessler said.

She said she felt like there had been more discussion about the county’s crash policy since she came onboard than this large project.

Chairman Doug Thompson said he was concerned both with taking the Armory from the fairgrounds operations and with trying to “shoehorn” needs into an existing structure. Whiteman said the Armory is primarily used for weddings, concerts and other events rather than the fair.

Becker said if he asked Reilly Johnson to evaluate the Armory it could delay getting bids out, resulting in increased costs at which point he would likely suggest waiting another year.

Whiteman said all she wanted to hear from the architects is whether or not a substantial look at the building is worth it. “I’m feeling unprepared,” she said. “I don’t want to do things haphazardly. It’s just a huge project. I’m not intentionally dragging my feet.”

Becker said he would ask the architects to take a brief look at the Armory while they are in town. He also advised the commission that the $349,000 price tag could increase with the additional considerations.

Following the vote of approval, the commission also approved a grant application to the State Land and Investment Board for $2.6 million, or half the building cost. This would encumber the same amount from the county’s reserves. The resolution in support of the grant would un-encumber the county’s funds if the grant was not approved. The application was due Thursday.

Kessler voted against approving the grant because she was “not sure I have enough information,” she said.

For the purposes of the grant application, Becker said he listed the Major property as the site for the new court facility. However, the commission plans on amending its application pending the selection after meeting with Reilly Johnson.