Questions fly as county prepares to build offices
As Carbon County gets ready to begin building a new office complex in Price, questions have begun flying around with residents, Price City council members and high school students looking into the issue.
Why the need to move the courthouse off of Main Street? What will become of the current county courthouse building? Why wasn't the funding gathered for a new courthouse put towards a possible recreation center in the area?
The three main issues each have their own specific points, so we'll take a look at each one separately.
Why offices and not recreation
Over 100 high school students and other recreation center backers crammed into the meeting room at a Carbon County Commission meeting on Aug. 15 with many voicing their concerns about why a recreation center was not listed as a higher priority than a new courthouse.
During the meeting county commissioners explained the reasoning for the new courthouse telling the audience that a new courthouse was a necessity with the current building no longer proving to be adequate. Commissioners have also stated that the current building is old and has a difficult time supporting the electrical needs posed by computers. Other equipment and the buildings heating, ventilating and air conditioning system is inadequate and storerooms having been converted into office space.
Nick Kiahtipes, a Carbon High student, questioned the need for a new courthouse when there was no recreation center in the area for the public. Kiahtipes, along with other high school students, spent weeks gathering signatures of people in the community who were in favor of having a recreation center before building a new courthouse.
"We want to have a place for people to go to for recreation and a place for youth to go and hang out at," Kiahtipes said during a meeting with the Sun Advocate in August.
Commissioners John Jones and Mike Milovich attended the Price City Council meeting last week during which a public hearing was held to discuss the possible transfer of two "orphan" parcels of land from the city to the county near where the proposed new courthouse would be built along 100 North near 700 East. The transfer of the parcels to the county was passed with a 4-1 vote with council member Kathy Hanna-Smith casting the lone no vote.
If the public would support a vote for a recreation center and provided the funding for it, Jones said he would help work to make it happen.
"I would support a recreation center here if it was put on a ballot in the future," Jones said.
Kiahtipes, who also spoke during the public hearing, said over time his view has changed from getting a recreation center to the possibility of Main Street being hurt by moving the courthouse to 100 North.
"I'm concerned that Main Street would suffer and not be as busy as before (without the courthouse)," Kiahtipes said.
The costs of building a recreation center in the area would prove to a difficult process to overcome, according to Commissioner Milovich. Not only would the costs be to build the recreation center be high, but so would the cost to help keep it maintained.
"The county's general fund can't handle a recreation center at this time," Milovich explained noting that the cost to keep up and maintain a possible recreation center could be up to $2 million per year.
If the county declined to build a new courthouse, the funding for the project, including a Community Impact Board loan and a $6 million grant, may disappear for good if they are not used, Jones said.
The costs to build a new courthouse at the current location were projected to be 30 to 40 percent higher compared to building a new courthouse on 100 North, according to Jones.
Why leave Main Street for 100 North
While city council members and residents in the community have heard the reasons behind a push for a new courthouse, there is worry among many of how the county's move away from Main Street would hurt downtown Price.
Hanna-Smith said she was concerned about watching the courthouse, with its many visitors on a daily basis, move off Main Street in the near future.
"We all need a courthouse," she said. "But what kind of damage (moving to 100 North) would this cause to Main Street?"
Milovich said the county has spent much of the past four years working on not only acquiring the funding for the new building, but also the best location of where the building would be placed. He said the county has done a number of studies related to the project, including soil studies of multiple proposed areas for the building. The soil at the current proposed location was deemed as being the best out of all the areas tested.
One issue discussed at length during the public hearing centered on the effects of increased traffic along 100 North. With the possibility of seeing traffic decrease along Main Street, Hanna-Smith said she was worried that much of the work put into making Main Street a place for people to visit would be wasted.
"We've worked really hard at beautifying our Main Street," she said. "It (losing the courthouse) helps destroy our Main Street appeal."
Traffic studies performed by the city have shown that the intersection at 100 North and 300 East was shown to be the busiest area with traffic in the city, according to Price City Mayor Joe Piccolo. But that might not be the case, Milovich said. When the Eastern Utah Credit Union was being built over 12 years ago, Milovich said a traffic study he had done showed that the intersection at 100 North and 700 East was the busiest in Price.
While moving the courthouse away from Main Street would be a difficult process to endure, Milovich said he has not seen any problems with other cities that have courthouses and city halls located away from Main Street.
"They (cities with courthouses built away from Main Street) have not had any single impact on those communities," he explained. "Where the new courthouse will be placed, it will be an asset to the community."
What will happen to old building
Much of the worry from citizens attending the public hearing last week centered around what would be done with the current courthouse building on Main Street.
Price City council member Grady McEvoy suggested that a number of entities in the area including the city, county, Carbon School District, USU Eastern and other groups could come together to find the best way to use the building.
While there are a number of possibilities that could play out over the next few years, Milovich and Jones said they are in support of using the current courthouse as a library for the public.
While passing the motion in support of transferring the two parcels of land to the county, the city council, following an approval from the Price City Planning and Zone board, included three main recommendations that were in the motion. They include:
Holding a series of community meetings between Carbon County officials and staff, Price City officials and staff, and concerned community members be completed to receive community input on the proposed project. Price City has agreed to facilitate these meetings and community members in attendance at the public hearing have agreed to participate in the meeting;
The review of the market analysis/social economic impact study detailing the potential local economic and financial impacts (positive or negative) to the public and private sectors based on the new facility and a new location outside of the downtown area;
The review of a study for not choosing the existing property (120 E. Main) and the proposed intended utilization of that property to prevent a large parcel from being dark on Main Street.
According to the letter by the city to Carbon County Commissioners, the next steps in the process will be to prepare a new lot assembly plat to combine the two existing building lots and the two orphan parcels into one building lot and completion of the conditional use permit.
Whatever the final determined use for the building would be, Jones cautioned that people may be focusing too much on being afraid of change in the area.
"We're so in fear of change," Jones said. He said that all of the parties who would be affected by moving the courthouse to the new location "need to be responsible" on finding the best possible solution for the current courthouse building.
"We all need to band together on this," he explained.