The year of 2020 was frustrating on many levels, however for county facility improvements in the Payson area it’s been a banner year.

In the past 12 months Gila County’s Facilities & Maintenance team has marked a year of progress in Payson. A year ago, in October, there was a ribbon cutting for the 5,700-square-foot Route 87 Community Teen Center and offices for Gila County Probation staff at 112 W. Cedar Lane. Fast forward to the ribbon cutting just a few weeks ago for the new Gila County Health Center office and clinic space, recently relocated into a 3,000-square-foot space, the former NAPA building, at 110 W. Main St.

County personnel and contractors gutted and rebuilt it, giving it a complete makeover. Now the structure will house the county’s Public Health and Emergency Management Department offices, meeting the growing needs of the Payson community.

Staff began moving into the new offices and clinical space this week — another accomplishment in the county’s strategic plan and continuous improvements in how staff can better serve Payson and Rim Country residents.

More advances

Gila County has enjoyed much progress over the past 12 months.

For one, the Gila County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimous approval for an intergovernmental agreement with the Town of Payson to proceed with plans for a regional drainage project to alleviate storm water runoff issues in the area of Frontier, Colcord and Main streets. Design should be completed in early December, with an updated report on expected construction costs presented at that time.

Probably the highest profile project is a new 11,000-square-foot multipurpose complex to be built near the crossroads of Colcord and Frontier streets, just north of the existing Gila County court facility. It is designed to encompass elected officials’ offices, a new board of supervisors meeting room with state-of-the-art audio and video streaming capacity in order to improve connectivity for meetings that are increasingly live streamed and broadcast on YouTube. It doubles as a Superior Court room, so Superior Court trials can happen in Payson. Construction is likely to begin in December or January.

“Adequate, suitable space — within which to provide our many services and be able to grow for years to come in northern Gila County — has been an issue of mine for the past 16 years,” said Gila County District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin.

“It finally brings us the ability to have local jury selection and hold trials and thereby fulfills one of the earliest requests made of me by residents of northern Gila County. Folks around here will no longer have to drive to Globe for jury needs, something northern Gila County residents have needed for years. This was on the top of my ‘to do’ list from the beginning.”

Gila County’s chief building official, other staff, and representatives of the Town of Payson are still reviewing plans for the new complex. To clear the site for construction, three obsolete older buildings must be removed; unfortunately some of the trees must also be removed, but Gila County is committed to landscaping the new complex. Plans include 26 new trees, 165 shrubs and 88 grasses, ground cover plants, and perennials.

During the first two weeks of November staff of Gila County Community Services and also the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension vacated the old buildings and moved into temporary office space at 512 S. Beeline Highway (the Twin Pines Plaza), allowing site work to begin with demolition of the inadequate older buildings and begin site preparation for the construction.

A look back

Problems with the county buildings in Payson go back as far as 1965.

• Early January 1965 — Jailed for the theft of beer, four Payson teens were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty furnace in the county jail on West Main, not long after it had opened for business.

• At that time even court cases were handled out of the sheriff’s office, including court cases, which were held in a small, dark, damp room at the back of the jail building. Attending a case, you could see it was also used for storage, with miscellaneous materials stacked up in the southwest corner of the room by the judge’s bench. It was so small the jury, defendant, prosecution and any gallery occupants were practically sitting on top of each other.

• For a long time the county’s only facilities in the Payson area were the sheriff’s satellite office and the jail on the corner of West Main and South Colcord, along with the county yard. Almost all county services for northern Gila County were handled in Globe — and before the improvements to the Beeline Highway and Highway 188, it was a long and winding trip to get to the county seat.

• At one point there was a design to update the sheriff’s office in Payson with a second story, but that never materialized.

• Eventually, the county acquired what was originally built as an office complex by a local real estate developer. It is what now makes up the bulk of the county facilities on the west side of the Beeline, bordered on the north by West Frontier, on the west by Colcord and on the south by the chamber office. It afforded more space for the growing county services needed by the Rim Country’s expanding population, but today the cramped court conditions are not much better than they were in that little room behind the jail years ago.

• A facilities committee was organized by District 1 Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin in 2006-2007 to study the needs, available sites and make a recommendation about the construction of an entirely new county complex to serve the Rim Country, using bond funds to build it. The estimated cost was between $32 million and $40 million. The proposed bond went on the 2008 ballot and met with failure.

• Gila County agreed to buy the NAPA building in Payson in July 2014.

• Retired Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill, in March 2015, discussed his concerns about the facilities.

“It’s been a quest of mine for 12 years to get better facilities (in Payson) so trials can be held in minimal acceptable space,” said Cahill.

He said when the supervisor’s office, county administration and community development moved to the building on Highway 260, it gave some space to staff spread out, but it did nothing for the Superior Court or county attorney.

He said the Superior Court needs enough space to have trials in an adequate and acceptable space. Right now, there is room to seat only eight-member juries. When a serious crime is before the court — one in which the defendant faces a potential sentence of 30 or more years — they are guaranteed a right to trial with a jury of 12. To seat a jury of 12, a pool of 40 to 50 people must be called for jury duty. The only court facilities that can accommodate that many potential jurors are in Globe.

• Taking another run at getting more space for the county to serve Rim Country residents a few years ago, officials started looking into rental space. One space, with 15,188 square feet, under consideration was the vacant part of the complex where Beall’s Outlet is located, Payson Plaza, 307 S. Beeline Highway. The cost to lease — $136,554 a year, with an annual 3% increase between Oct. 11, 2017 and Oct. 10, 2022, plus all the remodeling it would need to meet the court requirements made the plan too costly for the Gila County Board of Supervisors.

• September 2018 the supervisors and county manager James Menlove agreed it was time to make a comprehensive plan for the space needed to provide county services to the Rim Country.

• April 2019 a plan for facilities was presented to the BOS, including a cost estimate of $9.9 million in bond funds and $600,000 in capital improvement funds from the county budget. The board approved the plan with the understanding that not everything could be done at the same time. The northern Gila County projects are offices for probation and juvenile restoration at 112 W. Cedar Lane; remodeling the Gila County Sheriff’s Office; building a 10,000-square-foot facility at 700 S. Beeline for the courts, board of supervisors, and offices for other elected officials; demolition and site prep and paving at the corner of Beeline and West Main (107 and 201 W. Frontier St.); remodeling the NAPA building at 110 W. Main for health and emergency Services; and remodeling the community development office at 610 E. Highway 260 for security concerns.

Projects in southern Gila County include: improvements to GCSO Detention at 1100 E. South St.; construction of a new animal shelter at the county fairgrounds; repave existing parking lots at the County Complex, 1400 E. Ash; remodel of Michaelson Building, 157 S. Broad St.; remodel of the BOS hearing room at 1400 E. Ash; and improvements to the fairgrounds.

• The first project, completed the fall of 2019, was the purchase and remodel of a building at 112 West Cedar for probation services and a teen center, and as reported by the county above, at last progress is really being made to meet the needs of services provided to Rim Country residents.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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