By A. J. Ward
The Grant County Planning Department held a workshop to receive community input on ideas for possible best reuse of the Grant County Detention Center located by the Grant County Court House.
County Manager Charlene Webb welcomed the group which included Scott Nightingale, Kansas State University Technical Assistance to Brownfields ( KSU TAB); Moises Gonzales, UNM School of Architecture and Planning (UNMAPD); Rebecca Cook, New Mexico Environment Department (NMED); and Karen Peycke, the United States Environmental Protection Agency; as well as local residents.
Michael "Mischa" Larisch, County Planner, explained that the building had been vacant for many years, and the County was looking for ways to mitigate potential asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold in the building. They would also look for soil contamination because of the location of the adjacent old Boston Hill mine site.
Priscilla Lucero, Director of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments (COG), obtained brownfields funding from the NMED. Nightingale said KSU has funding for technical assistance for redevelopment that is hindered by contamination. The EPA likes to see old buildings and property redeveloped and KSU has assigned 21 states to receive their assistance and free funding.
One step in the process is community involvement. A community is asked to participate with a focus on environmental issues, community needs and a project that would help the whole community. It should be a long-term, sustainable project.
Larisch said Grant County will continue to have ownership of the building, which encompasses 15,200 square feet in the two-story building that goes underground and was built in 1974. . A blueprint of the original floor plan was provided, along with another blueprint of the remodel done in 2005. The upstairs attic is closed. He knows of no zoning restrictions in that area. No decision has been made at this time as to whether the building would be remodeled or torn down.
Phase 1 would include a site visit and a review of regulations, environmental conditions, such as the presence of petroleum and the open space.
Once all substances are identified, Phase II would begin. This would include sampling of the brownfield with grant funding, which will provide technical assistance. The mine site produced sloughing with runoff, and any metals in the runoff would be tested. Planning would include landscaping possibilities.
Gonzales said his role is to help generate illustrations of visions and potential use. He is currently working in El Paso and just finished a project in Tucumcari. All projects are difficult and come with opportunities. He asked how the Courthouse, built in 1929, relates to the adjacent building. He advised participants to think big. He is here to guide and help figure out the next iteration of this place.
Nightingale gave instructions for the community participation table groups. The approximate 30 attendees were divided into six tables of five people each. They received copies of the two blueprints, paper, and markers and were instructed to come up with ideas for use of the building. After each group completed its list, it was presented and explained, then posted on the wall for voting. Each attendee was allowed five colored dots for votes to stick on their preferred uses of the building.
By the end of the sessions, the projects resembled one another. They covered the arts community with thoughts of a museum, multipurpose arts center, galleries, cultural center for workshops, studios, clay, mining, ranching, gardening, art, dance, geology, dark skies, birding and interactive projects.
Suggestions for the homeless and less fortunate included an apartment building for severe mental illness in a secured gated facility, long term supportive housing, cold weather shelter for men, and temporary shelter for teens. In addition, ideas included a teen center, recreation center for families and kids, and a sport-oriented center.
Next were suggestions for a hostel type building for the Continental Trail Divide hikers, bicyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts, which would provide showers, beds, laundry, and perhaps even WiFi.
A group suggested landscaping that could provide an area for concerts on the front lawn, amphitheater, a botanical garden, access to Boston Hill for hiking and other types of activities.
A different suggestion would turn the building into a judicial complex to include magistrate court, state police, juvenile and adult probation, drug court, and pretrial services.
Aldo Leopold Charter School could use the facility.
Participants seemed to come to a consensus that the building might have to be demolished because of the contamination, as well as the cost to remodel.
At the end of the evening, Larisch explained the ideas would all be summarized as much as possible and then the County would decide what the next steps would be.
He thanked the community for coming out and participating in the project. Many times, larger towns have very poor turnouts and it is a waste of time and money for the presenters to come and try to get community involvement in improving the community and old buildings.