by Rick Langenberg:
After months of meetings, talks with state officials and planning sessions, the town of Green Mountain Falls has hit pay dirt regarding a new $800,000 town hall facility. As a result, the days of using temporary space and experiencing meetings in a tiny area with standing-room-only crowds are coming to a close
Last week, Interim Town Manager Rob McArthur announced the closing of the real estate deal, involving the purchase of 1.5 acres adjacent to Joyland Church off Ute Pass Avenue for about $110,000. The town purchased land from property owner Mike Lambert, who still will retain ownership of an adjacent 1.5 acre area.
This was the last hurdle, and now the town can move forward on a project that began after a devastating arson fire in the winter of 2012. The town’s 19th-century town hall, located near the post office, was completely destroyed in a blaze started by two Colorado Springs men who reportedly had an ax to grind with the government. Since then, officials have mulled more than 20 sites and considered various plans. The project hit the jackpot when the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) awarded Green Mountain Falls $500,000. The remainder of the funds for the project came from insurance compensation and donated monies.
McArthur hopes to have the new 2,800-square-foot facility completed by Labor Day. Ground-breaking is tentatively scheduled for April, with the deadline for submitting requests for proposals from contractors around March 21. “We are set to go. We have now closed on the property and have the money. There is no backing out now,” said McArthur, in an interview last week. McArthur said he believes the new facility will help unite the community and the overall Ute Pass region. He cites a more regional approach to government services as a big priority in the most recent comprehensive resident survey, done as part of an economic sustainability project in GMF. The big question, though, hinges on the facility’s future law enforcement area.
A good portion of the planned building was established for the marshal’s office. But concerns have mounted regarding whether the town will ever have a marshal’s office again. The town parted ways with former Marshal Tim Bradley two months ago, and GMF’s law enforcement is now being handled by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. “There will be a law enforcement station,” said the interim town manager. But it’s still unclear if this will serve as a substation for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, or if the town government will reorganize its marshal’s department. The future of law enforcement in GMF will become one of the big campaign issues in the upcoming April 1 election.
The facility will also come equipped with a much larger council chambers, court area and offices for the city clerk and deputy clerk. The design will also allow room for expansion. The new town hall facility represents a three-fold-plus increase over what it had before.
Why so big?
A much larger and more elaborate town hall has raised concerns by some local residents, who have referred to the project as the local “Taj Mahal” or a government palace. Joe Morin of Green Mountain Falls maintains that the facility is outrageously expensive for a government with only two full-time employees and questions the approval process by DOLA. He contends that a private development was once proposed on the same site, but these plans were rejected. He believes town leaders are pursuing a personal agenda. “Rather than seeking funds that might actually improve the safety or quality of life for the town’s taxpayers, perhaps for improvement of Fountain Creek to prevent devastating flood damage as was experienced by multiple business district owners last summer, or perhaps for building a much needed flood warning system to prevent loss of human life in flash floods that regularly threaten the town, the town’s officials prioritized the funding of a monumental government chateau,” said Morin, in a letter to the editor published in this week’s TMJ.
Other residents have echoed similar views, with the new mega town hall becoming the talk of the town. But according to McArthur, no local taxpayer dollars were used. “I don’t really see any downside to this project. We didn’t lose anything from doing this. It has been very positive,” said McArthur.
The town manager also notes that the project involved many public hearings. “We had plenty of public input,” he added.
Oddly enough, the town hall facility marks one of the few issues that the current board of trustees has unanimously supported. And this comes from a group of leaders that has engaged in considerable infighting. “They (current board of trustees) haven’t agreed on too many issues,” admitted McArthur. “But this is one of the few they have pretty much agreed on.”