LOVINGTON — Lea County officials asked state representatives for a total of $16.56 million in capital outlay funding.
With the second session of the New Mexico’s 54th Legislature set to begin in two months, two state senators and four state representatives elected from Lea and Eddy counties met last week with officials of local governmental entities to hear their presentations.
By the end of each session, legislators know how much funding the Legislature has allotted for capital outlays in their districts. The annual capital outlay gathering provides local governments an opportunity to explain their requests in advance of the upcoming session.
Gathered to hear the presentations were Rep. Cathrynn Brown, Rep. James Townsend, Sen. Gregg Fulfer, Sen. Gay Kernan, Rep. David Gallegos and Rep. Larry Scott.
Top of the list for Lea County was a $5 million request to support renovation of the historical courthouse in downtown Lovington, originally built in 1936 and remodeled in 1957. At a total cost of about $17 million, the structure will undergo a complete interior renovation lasting more than two years.
Actual remodeling will require moving staff out of the courthouse, which is set to be done when the new judicial complex is complete. County leaders expect the new judicial complex to be up and running by the start of summer 2020.
“Once the new judicial complex is complete, we’ll move the second floor, which is the courtrooms, into the judicial complex,” County Manager Mike Gallagher told the legislators. “Then, we’ll do an interior demolition and start the renovation process.”
While the court personnel, including the district attorney, are being moved, other county staff will transfer temporarily to a new general services building at the Lea County Fairgrounds, Gallagher explained.
The plan is to consolidate most county offices into the remodeled courthouse.
“What I like about this is it will create a one-stop shop. Right now we have county offices that are scattered in Hobbs and in Lovington,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to keep the road department in Hobbs. We’re going to keep a presence in Hobbs.”
Gallagher assured the legislators, “We’re going to do the remodel in such a way that we stay true to the historical features that are in the facility.”
In response to Kernan’s question about the timing of staff movement, Gallagher said, “We will not start moving any staff out of (the courthouse) or start working on this project until the new judicial complex is 100% complete.”
Gallagher explained the judicial complex completion has been delayed, but the county is negotiating with contractor’s bonding company to get the job done soon.
The county’s second priority capital outlay request is for $3 million for a central heating and cooling plant for the Lea County Detention Center.
County Facilities Director Erick Francke explained to the legislators the central plant would replace aging units and supply heating and cooling for both the detention center and the nearby sheriff’s office.
“This would reduce our operating expenses and allow us to have much better fresh air than we do now,” Francke said.
Ruben Quintana, warden of the detention center, told the legislators he has a 400-bed adult facility and 32-bed juvenile facility.
“We’ve been at that location since October 2005, so we’re near the 15-year mark with (the current HVAC units),” Quintana said, adding the county holds detainees for all municipalities in Lea County and has agreements to detain prisoners for other counties and the U.S. Marshall Services.
Gallagher believes the Lea County Detention Center is going to become one of the more important detention centers in the state.
“Because right now, other juvenile housing units in other towns are closing and we’re taking them,” he said. “Curry County recently closed theirs and more and more counties are considering closing their juvenile units because of the cost associated with housing them.”
Assistant County Manager Corey Needham addressed the county’s final three priorities, starting with No. 3 priority, ISO fire rating improvements.
Asking a capital outlay grant of $500,000, Needham said the county had developed a plan that will cost a total of about $2.5 million to improve water delivery in the event of fires outside incorporated communities.
Much of the funding, Needham said, will come through partnering with the communities and the county itself to complete the planned improvements.
Widening and reconstructing Battle Axe Road at a total cost of $8.2 million is Lea County’s No. 4 priority, Needham said while asking for $6.7 million in capital outlay funding.
“There’s a high concentration of drilling activity in the area,” Needham told the legislators, calculating about 3,000 trucks per day to service almost 700 drilling rigs.
Kernan noted recent legislative action had lifted some restrictions on getting state money from a county roadway fund. Needham acknowledged he was unaware of the legislation, but would check into it.
To Scott’s question how long the Battle Axe Road reconstruction would take, Needham explained the construction process before estimating it would take about a month.
Also a road issue, the No. 5 priority seeks $1.36 million to partially fund a total cost of $1.87 million to widen and reconstruct Knowles Road, north of Hobbs to Stiles road. The plan is to widen the road from 24 feet to 32 feet.
“When we developed our longterm plan for our roadways we split our thoroughfares into two categories, the oilfield thoroughfares and those close to our municipalities,” Needham explained.
“We’ve already done a portion of this roadway. We’re looking at extending it,” Needham said.
After Gallagher wrapped up Lea County’s presentation by pointing out the public safety and transportation aspects, Kernan said, “Personally, I appreciate how you have your projects prioritized. I think your requests are very reasonable.”
Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at ..