Petition to stop JPJ Complex construction shot down

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By Jennifer Garcia

Despite an effort by some local residents to stop construction of the Judicial/Police/Jail Complex, the show will go on.


County Councilors voted 5-1 in favor of proceeding with construction of the complex. The only one who voted against it was Council Vice Chairman Robert Gibson.


Local business owner Min Park and a handful of residents voiced their opinions Tuesday night on the JPJ Complex. Park, who spearheaded the petition that was presented to the county on Nov. 24, apologized to council for bringing this issue to them so late in the process.


He said that he and some other Los Alamos residents felt that the complex is too large in size, too high in cost and not ideal in location. However, he also stated that the citizen group endorses a judiciary complex in a modest size and cost on an alternative location.


Though Park did not offer suggestions for an alternative site, he hinted that the county might consider Parcel A9 on DP Road or the LASO site.


Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro said the project could not go on either Parcel A9 or the LASO site by saying the current building plans would have to be reconfigured in order to fit on A9. He also said there is still building demolitions that need to be done on the LASO site, therefore, it has not yet been turned over to the county.


First Judicial District Judge Stephen Pfeffer and Magistrate Judge Pat Casados were both present at last night’s meeting and spoke out in favor of the JPJ Complex.


“This has been a long process. One concern is a separation of the public from the staff,” Pfeffer said. “This is a unique court for the entire state. You have done a magnificent job and have creative foresight.”


Casados stressed that magistrate court’s lease will be up in June and they will need a place to go.


Park started out by saying that 55 more people have signed his petition.


He told councilors he has two friends who are in the construction business, who gave him quotes on the JPJ Complex.


He said his friends quoted him $125-$175 per square foot, which is significantly less than the $176-$278 per square foot that is being charged for the project currently, by HB Construction Inc., based in Albuquerque.


He said these friends are reputable, but declined to identify them.


“They said, let me know and I’ll come to your town and build anything you want,” Park stated.


Mortillaro said that when the process started, they sent out bids throughout the state, but only received three.


“We had three proposals and we chose the lowest bidder,” he said. In regard to Park’s comments about his friends’ estimates, Mortillaro said, “estimates are estimates. You don’t have a price until you bid on it. If there is a contractor that can do this for less, I’d say give us his number. Otherwise, we’re just chasing rabbits.”


Anne Laurent said that because contractors are already so far into the project, it would be costly to the county to stop it right now.


“We took down the sally port (at the police station) and it would cost $1.6 million to put it back together. We also took the generator off site and took down the inmate recreation room,” she said. “We have 100 concrete beams in the ground. We have utilities being installed that need to be hooked up.”


Police Wayne Torpy stressed the conditions that he and his staff are working under right now are acceptable only on a short-term basis.


“We’re operating under a window, knowing that the project will be done by October of 2009,” he said.


He also pointed out that the jail is no longer using prison trustees because of the changes taking place.


In addition, he said that the sally port was being used for storage, but since it’s been taken down, the items that were in there have been moved into the dayroom, which means that prisoners no longer have a place to play cards or have recreation time.


Councilor Michael Wheeler weighed in on the discussion by saying, “I can’t remember how many times we’ve had this discussion. Police, detention and courts are fundamental underpinnings of the community,” he said. “The perception is that we don’t have criminals (in Los Alamos).”


Torpy said, “The perception of no crime is welcome. We have a very low crime rate in Los Alamos County and we should be proud of that.”


He also pointed out that data collected from January to October of this year calculated an average daily jail population at 10 prisoners. He said that the jail can see as many as 24 prisoners in a day, or as little as 10. He also reiterated what he’d said at a prior meeting, that the jail does not have the room to house female and juvenile prisoners.


“When we put a female or juvenile in a cell block we lose three beds,” he said.


“To stop this project at this time will be an economic disaster,” Wheeler said.


Councilor Fran Berting concurred with Wheeler.


“Perfection is always around the corner. We can’t waste $4 million and start over again. I understand that Mr. Park is very busy, but where were the other 38 petition signers in the last three years?” she queried.


Gibson said he felt that putting three courts in one place is ideal.


“If we move it, the 3-in-1 courts would likely fall apart,” he said. “If we move the complex, costs will go up, not down. This isn’t a 23rd hour petition, it’s a 25th hour petition,” he continued.


Council Chairman Jim Hall said that putting this decision off for the new council would be irresponsible.


“A 15,000 square foot reduction is impossible,” he said. “Space for the courts is not our decision. They make that decision. Our current arrangement for women and juveniles is unacceptable,” he said, therefore he would support the motion to continue with the JPJ Complex.


The council began the meeting with tributes and remembrances for out-going councilor Jim West.


He was remembered in moving statements from many local residents and by councilors.


West resigned recently for health reasons and did not attend the meeting.