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County Commission looks at jail conversion project

Vets hope to occupy Fort Wooton at completion of project

by Bill Knowles

TRINIDAD — The Las Animas County Commission hammered out the last of the questions they had on a contract with Maxwell Builders, the contractor doing the jail conversion project.

Their concerns focused around language that would institute a penalty of around $350 a day for damages or delays in the renovation work.  This is to ensure the contractor finishes the job on time, with as few problems as possible.  The county commission was advised by Leeann Fabec, the county administrator, to approve the contract contingent on Maxwell Builders accepting the change in language.

They approved the contract with the contingency along with changes calling for weekly meetings between the contractor and the owner, in this case, between Maxwell Builders and the  county administrator, with a 3-0 vote. The changes also establish a monthly meeting between the contractor, Las Animas County, and the architect, Kinney Architect.

When the project is finished the renovated jail in the courthouse square will house the county’s Department of Human Resources.  The County Veteran’s Association hopes to move into the former offices of the DHS at Fort Wooton.

Fort Wooton was built between 1936 and 1937 as a Works Progress Authority (WPA) project. Although called a fort, Fort Wooton is not and has never been a military project.  It is an imposing complex comprised of six buildings constructed from native stone, linked together and surrounding a courtyard area.

Originally conceived as a “fortress of memory”, the structure covers an entire city block and was built as a gathering place for all veterans and veteran organizations.

The county commission approved the memorandum of understanding with a 3-0 vote.  The memorandum gives the county veterans committee the momentum to move forward with their project, according to Fabec.  “This MOU was prepared with the help of our county attorney and it’s very generic by design because it doesn’t bind them or us to anything beyond saying, ‘here are our intentions for the next few months. Here’s what we’re going to be doing and here’s what you’re going to be doing.’”

Questions were raised concerning maintenance of the complex.  Commissioner Mack Louden voiced his concern that it was not the intention of the county to let Fort Wooton fall into ruin, but to maintain it to a point.
“This [the MOU] probably doesn’t address any major construction needs, but if there are any repairs that need to be done maintenance wise, not construction wise, we’ll make sure those needs are addressed,” said Fabec. “If there’s a water related issue or something like that, that’s what the language in the MOU refers to.  The veterans committee board signed off on this document but I’m sure they’re willing to consider any change that the commissioners might want to make.”

No final date has been set for the transfer of ownership of the fort to the veterans committee from the county.

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