Today, Mark Udall sent a letter to Judge Michael Ponsor, chair of the Committee on Space and Facilities for the U.S. Courts, expressing concerns that the U.S. Courthouse in Grand Junction, located downtown in the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building, is on a list of sites for potential closure. Closure would impact a growing number of constituents who are served by the court in a critical part of the state.
"The U.S. District Court in Grand Junction is geographically important and now serves a much larger population than at any time in its history," Udall wrote in the letter. "The people residing in this region of the state are often a half-day's drive to any other courthouse that could handle the caseload in Grand Junction. As such, the closure of a federal courthouse in western Colorado could have a severe negative impact on access to the court system for rural citizens on Colorado's Western Slope."
A March 22, 2012, report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts lists the court in Grand Junction as 43rd out of 60 potential closures. The Judicial Conference Committe on Space and Facilities has asked that each Circuit Judicial Council review whether their facilities on the list are needed and provide a recommendation on closure to the committee by April 13, 2012. Following this report, in a June meeting, the committee will review and forward any recommendations to the Judicial Conference for final decisions in September, 2012. The Grand Junction court is a member of the District of Colorado in the 10th Judicial Circuit.
The court is the largest and longest-standing tenant of the Aspinall Federal Building, which was originally constructed in 1918 and has been undergoing a $12.3 million renovation and modernization funded by ARRA. It will become the first net-zero energy building in the National Register of Historic Places.
The text of the letter follows:
Dear Judge Ponsor,
I write to express my concerns with a March 22, 2012 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which identifies the U.S. Courthouse within the Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building in Grand Junction, Colorado as a potential site for closure. In addition to the taxpayer funds already spent on courthouse-specific renovations that would go to waste, losing the federal court presence could have negative, lasting impacts on the many Colorado communities and citizens west of the Continental Divide.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Aspinall Federal Building was opened in 1918. Just over a year ago the General Services Administration awarded a $12.3 million contract to modernize the 92-year-old historic building, which is expected to become the first net-zero energy building in the National Register of Historic Places, producing zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually. Once modernization is completed, the building will host nine federal agencies in addition to the United States District Court. Funding for this project, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, represents an important contribution not only to the financial and physical health of the Aspinall Federal Building, but will also be felt for years to come in improved service to the community and reduced energy costs. I am concerned that closing the court in the Aspinall Federal Building this far along in the modernization process would result in the loss of a significant number of design, planning, and construction hours specific to the renovation of the court.
The U.S. District Court in Grand Junction is geographically important and now serves a much larger population than at any time in its history. The people residing in this region of the state are often a half-day's drive to any other courthouse that could handle the current caseload in Grand Junction. As such, the closure of a federal courthouse in western Colorado could have a severe negative impact on access to the court system for rural citizens on Colorado's Western Slope.
While I applaud your efforts to identify cost savings within the judicial branch, I encourage the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in conjunction with the GSA, to recognize the importance of the federal court housed in the Aspinall Federal Building and consider Colorado's unique circumstances as you move forward with final closure determinations.