Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ritter Signs Bill to Build New Judicial Center, History Museum

Gov. Bill Ritter today signed legislation that authorizes construction of a new state judicial complex, to be named after former Gov. Ralph L. Carr, and creates a new home for the aging Colorado History Museum in downtown Denver.

SB 206 creates a financing mechanism to allow the building of the Ralph L. Carr Justice Center on the block currently occupied by the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado History Museum. The 615,000-square-foot complex will consolidate into one location the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Attorney General’s office and several other judicial and legal offices, including the state Public Defender and Office of the Child's Advocate, now located across multiple sites. The History Museum will be relocated to a new 200,000-square-foot facility one block south.

“The existing Supreme Court and History Museum buildings opened more than 30 years ago,” Ritter said. “They were outdated and obsolete from the day they opened, and they have not aged well since."

By consolidating the state’s judicial and legal offices under one roof, the state should save more than $60 million in rent, lease and other expenses over the next 30 years. The state will also avoid having to spend $17 million in maintenance costs needed to bring the current Supreme Court and History Museum buildings up to code. The buildings are located on the block bounded by Broadway, Lincoln and 13th and 14th avenues.

The roof of the museum has leaked since it opened, and employees regularly use buckets and trash cans to collect rainwater and prevent damage to historical artifacts. The museum also lacks proper climate controls for storing and displaying its collection. The collection includes more than 10 million documents, 800,000 photographs and 250,000 artifacts.

Ritter said he was happy that the new courts building would be named after former Gov. Ralph L. Carr, who gained fame for resisting efforts to intern Japanese-Americans citizens during World War II.

“I am particularly pleased we are naming the new justice center after one of my heroes and one of the truly great Coloradans,” Ritter added. “More than 60 years after standing up for the rights of Japanese-Americans, and by extension the rights of us all, Ralph Carr is finally getting the recognition he deserves.”

Supreme Court chief justice Mary Mullarkey said the judiciary is pleased by the prospect, after years of effort, that a new courts building will be built.

“We very much appreciate the legislature’s hard work and bipartisan efforts in developing this bill and the governor’s approval of it,” Mullarkey said. “This new facility will provide greater safety for the court, efficiency in our operations and significant long-term cost savings to the people of Colorado.”

SB 206 authorizes the state to enter into lease-purchase agreements, increase court fees and utilize the state historical fund to pay for the project. Total project costs for the new museum are $113 million, and $295 million for the judicial center, both spread out over 35 years.

The new museum will open in late 2011 and the judicial center in 2014. The new museum site will be a public-private partnership, jointly developed with a private office tower.

The legislation was sponsored by Sens. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Josh Penry, R-Fruita, and Reps. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, and Don Marostica, R-Loveland.