LOVINGTON — The city of Lovington on Wednesday took a double-dip on upcoming projects with back-to-back groundbreaking ceremonies for a $21 million project to rebuild a portion of the New Mexico Hwy. 82/Main Street corridor downtown and a $6 million build to house the city’s Magistrate Court.
Francisco Sanchez, New Mexico Department of Transportation district engineer for southeast New Mexico, served as master of ceremonies for the highway project groundbreaking near the Lea County Courthouse. He told the crowd NMDOT is proud of the project, which will address major issues with the main thoroughfare through the community. The project is expected to take a little more than a year, weather permitted.
“This project will help make Lovington a beautiful community,” Sanchez said. “The beautiful community it is.”
The project is slated to run from Avenue D, north to Jackson Street, completely rebuilding the almost one-mile stretch of highway. The project will address ongoing issues with deteriorating asphalt, drainage and more, including improvements to curbs and sidewalks, according to a NMDOT press release in July.
Motorists can anticipate travel delays along the construction route, Mayor David Trujillo told the News-Sun. Love Street and Second Street were previously identified as detour routes for traffic around the project.
Lea County Commissioner Dean Jackson said he was happy to see the project getting underway for Lovington. Many years in the making, the Hwy. 82/Main Street project will give the Lovington community the look and recognition it deserves as the seat of county government.
“The County Seat is the jewel of Lea County, and we need a road that represents that,” Jackson said. “It seems like this has taken forever but, pretty quick, we’ll have a decent road.”
Rep. Randy Pettigrew, R-Lovington, shared some of the history of the project, starting with discussions he said he had with NMDOT about the sidewalks along the Main Street corridor in downtown Lovington and issues with compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the city was addressing issues with its streets, they weren’t sure of the process to deal with ADA concerns along state highway rights-of-way, he said.
“That’s one of the many things that helped push this project forward,” Pettigrew said. “The real kickoff started in 2016, but this was on people’s minds for years before that.”
Pettigrew also asked the local business community to be patient during the 400-day construction time of the project. He said he’s aware the construction could impact access to downtown businesses, but the eventual results of the project will hopefully make it worthwhile.
“I’d ask everyone if something irritates you about the project, take a minute, take a day, before you call somebody,” Pettigrew said. “Please be patient. They’re going to build us a good road. They’re doing everything they can to build a safe road, safely, to provide everything we need to move Lovington forward.”
Trujillo echoed Pettigrew’s sentiments, pledging ongoing communication with local business as the project moves forward. The project represents the cooperative efforts of numerous state, county and local agencies, said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, whose five-county district includes Tatum and the northern portion of Lea County.
“The really neat part of this is they all worked together so well,” Ingle said.
He noted a similar project completed in Portales, saying the community was “fortunate to get our roads done. The people of Portales love it, and you will love it, too.”
Following the ceremonial turning of the first shovels of dirt for the highway project, the crowd made its way south about a block, to the site of the planned Municipal Court building at the intersection of Main Street and Avenue A. Trujillo kicked off ceremonies there, again thanking Lea County leaders for their support and cooperation of the project before introducing Lovington Magistrate David Finger.
“Judge Finger has been instrumental bringing this project to us,” Trujillo said. “He brought it to our attention almost two years ago, finding the revenue for it in Santa Fe.”
Magistrate judge in Loving-ton since 2011, Finger provided a bit of history on the courts in Lovington and Lea County. The former home of the magistrate court was built in 1937, Finger said, and was a state-of-the-art facility for its time. But the community simply outgrew it, and the courts that followed, leaving the community in need once again of a new magistrate court, he said.
He also noted there was some controversy during the courthouse construction in the 1930s, with a group of “powerful lawyers” wanting to move the facility south to Hobbs. But the residents of Lovington fought for their courthouse at the time, he said, with a tenacity being mirrored today as the community plans its latest facility.
“We’re no longer able to serve the community with the courthouse we have,” Finger said. “It’s packed every day — there’s not a seat to be had.
“We need to get a new courthouse; the needs of the community demand it,” he said. “The defining factor of the city was how hard the people fought for their courthouse (in the 1930s). And I’m proud to be part of that tradition today.”
The new magistrate court will occupy a vacant lot where the former home of a Mobile gasoline station was torn down more than 30 years ago. The county also owns four adjacent properties, both to the north and west of the vacant lot, which will be removed to make way for the new court building.
With a planned area of 11,200 square feet, the project was originally budgeted at about $5.5 million, Trujillo told the News-Sun. But recent cost increases for construction materials have upped that estimate to slightly more than $6 million, he said. Finger said the project should be completed and his court and staff moved in sometime in early 2023. Again, Jackson said he was excited to see the progress going on right now in Lovington.
“I’m a lifelong Loving-ton resident,” Jackson said. “Any construction in the city excites me.
“The County Seat needs to be the jewel of the county,” Jackson said, echoing his own comments from the first groundbreaking just minutes before. The municipal court project “moves us in that direction.”