By Thomas M. Sanchez
The Mora County Commission held two public meetings in recent months to hear public input on steps to move forward with the Mora County Complex.
Last December, local residents participated in an open public meeting to express concerns about the project as well as suggestions for taking steps to complete the project. Additionally, during a commission meeting in late January, residents had another opportunity to provide input on a request for funding for the Mora County Complex for submission to the New Mexico State Legislature.
As a result of both of these meetings, the Mora County Commission has a better understanding of the needs and concerns of the people of Mora County. Based on public input, the Mora County Commission submitted a request for funding to the New Mexico State Legislature.
At both meetings, the majority of the comments were in strong support of completion of the facility because of the need to have a proper facility to operate county government. Currently, county offices are operating out of portable buildings that were intended to be temporary. The new facility would house offices for the county treasurer, assessor, clerk, sheriff, manager, and other essential county government offices. It would also include the Motor Vehicle Division and Public Health Office in addition to a shared courtroom for Magistrate Court and District Court.
The current shell was built with an investment of $5.6 million of combined state, federal and local funds. One year ago, Mora County came under new leadership with the intent to learn from the past and move forward with the project.
In 2011, the county successfully completed the energy efficiency project funded with federal stimulus dollars, which provided for installation of windows, doors and insulation in the building. Since June, the shell has been complete, sealed from the elements, and protected by a security fence.
In recent meetings, Mora County residents raised legitimate questions about utility costs and structural integrity. The county has obtained estimates of $1.50 to $2.00 per square foot for utilities and is under the advisement of the state on strategies to cover this cost. The county has compiled detailed information about the inspection reports that document compliance with requirements of the Construction Industries Division and the county believes that requirements concerning construction oversight were met.
The county obtained some simple, preliminary cost estimates for completion of the Complex to assist in our planning process. Using the existing plans, it would cost $3 million to complete the first floor and $2.8 million to complete the top floor. With the inclusion of the cost of the parking lot, taxes, architect and engineering fees, and a contingency factor, we estimated a completion cost of about $7 million based on the current plans. An estimated $4 million would complete the first floor and parking lot.
Some redesign will be necessary to account for new information and adapted strategies for completion. The original design had two courtrooms and the county has recently been advised by the Administrative Office of the Courts that only one courtroom is necessary. The space otherwise dedicated for the second courtroom can be allocated to other uses. With good planning, there is a possibility that space can be made available for entities on a lease basis which would provide some revenue assist with the operations costs of the facility.
The Mora County Commission recently approved and submitted a request to the New Mexico State Legislature for funding to complete the entire structure. This includes all essential county functions on the first floor and a flexible floor pattern on the second floor, including small business space, expanded adult education learning facilities, and possibly other uses.
Mora County is grateful for past support from Sen. Phil Griego and Rep. Thomas Garcia. Sen. Pete Campos is also supporting the project this year and has pledged to be a strong advocate for the project at the state Legislature. The project is included in a tentative list of statewide priorities assembled jointly by the Department of Finance and Administration on behalf of Governor Susan Martinez and the Legislative Finance Committee on behalf of the legislative leadership.
While the outcome of the legislative session remains uncertain, the Mora County Commission is hopeful about the possibility of securing resources to move forward with the project in the coming year.
Thomas M. Sánchez is the Mora County manager. He may be reached at 575-387-5279.
Editor’s note: The legislative session adjourned Thursday. Sanchez said Wednesday that it appeared Mora County would be getting a $4 million appropriation for the courthouse project.