Last week, the El Paso County Commissioners voted to buy parts of the former Intel facility at Corporate Ridge on Garden of the Gods Road. They plan to move most service-oriented county offices there in September. While aspects of this purchase are excellent, too little attention has been paid to the site selected and to the decision’s impact on other community priorities.
Buying a building was the best solution to the infrastructure crisis facing the Department of Human Services, the Health Department, and the Coroner. I applaud consolidating the social services departments with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.
My concern is with the buildings chosen. The decision should have included several factors: cost, location, and adequacy (size). While the commissioners say they evaluated over a dozen options, they have not released the results of their assessment. Therefore, we as citizens and taxpayers cannot evaluate whether or not the Intel facility was the best choice.
Another important factor is the impact on other community goals. Over the past 10 years, our population has increased by 90,000 people, but we have lost 2,000 civilian jobs. That trend needs to change. The Intel campus was more highly prized by high-wage employers than other buildings considered by the county and more than the buildings the county will vacate. We have thus reduced one area of comparative advantage in economic development.
The county’s site selection has been made, but there is still an opportunity to reduce costs and reduce the harm done to another community goal: maintaining a vibrant downtown. There is room at Corporate Ridge for the Sheriff’s Training Academy, and any other Sheriff’s offices that do not need to be downtown, which could join the Office of Emergency Management.
Instead, El Paso County plans a complicated shuffle. It would move most Sheriff’s offices to the County Building on Vermijo. This displaces the treasurer and assessor to Corporate Ridge, and County Administration to Centennial Hall. This latter move would also displace the Clerk to Corporate Ridge. This increases the cost of the county’s decision, because both the County Building and Centennial Hall would be renovated, and all their occupants moved. We could save that money, reduce the risk of cost overruns, and still have the Sheriff’s functions split among only two locations as in the current plan. Or, instead, move only County Administration to Corporate Ridge, and leave more of the Sheriff’s administrative offices downtown.
Not only would this save money, it would also be good for downtown and the professionals and other citizens who regularly use county government. Taking care of business with the Clerk, Assessor or Treasurer gives citizens a reason to go downtown; while there, they may shop or visit a restaurant within walking distance. Moving the elected officials also affects professionals who use them in conjunction with the courthouse, because those functions would no longer be in the same area. Lastly, leaving the Clerk’s office downtown would result in a better geographic distribution of its services, since there is already a branch office in Briargate.
Let’s make the best of this decision. Encourage county officials to rethink the proposed movement of offices. Leaving the elected county officials where they are would reduce the cost and disruption of the move, greatly reduce the chance of any surprise overruns in renovations, help downtown, and provide better services to professionals as well as to the citizens who need to use these essential county offices.
Mowle has been Public Trustee for El Paso County since 2008 and is running for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder.