BELEN — As construction continues on the new courthouse in Belen, it’s unclear if the building has enough space to house both the magistrate and municipal courts.
During a walk-through of the building in late October, Belen Mayor Robert Noblin questioned if the space allocated for the Belen Municipal Court is large enough, and if it could adequately work for the staff.
“We’re doing a walk through to address space concerns,” Noblin said. “Now that we are under construction, there are some concerns that it might be confusing for the public which court is which, is there adequate space (for both) and adequate file storage for municipal court.”
While the courthouse has gone through a few design changes, with the last one to include space for municipal court, Noblin said there still might be some space issues.
“We don’t want a lot of commingling of the two courts as far as records and shared space,” the mayor said.
During the walk through, Magistrate John Chavez said there could be design changes at this point. He said the Administrative Office of the Courts has estimated a cost of between $25,000 to $30,000 to make the changes, which would include a wall to separate the two court clerks offices, an additional window with bullet-proof glass and a security door.
Any change orders to the project for the municipal court would have to be paid by city taxpayers, Belen City Manager Roseann Peralta told the News-Bulletin. She said the space issues are not the only problem with the building.
The new courthouse, which is being built directly east of Belen City Hall, is scheduled to be completed in January 2023. The AOC and the city of Belen are partnering to provide the 11,100 square-foot courthouse, which could house both the state magistrate and Belen municipal courts.
The city approved the final cost — $5.6 million — in March 2022. Bradbury Stamm was hired by the AOC to build the structure, while the city of Belen is acting as the fiscal agent for the project.
While space is an issue for the municipal court, which has a staff of four, Peralta said there are other issues the city is concerned with, including phone and internet connectivity and storage. She said there is not a space in the design for file records for the city court.
“We’ve been in discussion back and forth with AOC,” Peralta said. “We’ve been working on the parking lot issue for about four weeks. They are paying for repaving their portion of the parking lot, and the city will cover our cost, but we’re still waiting on the exact price.”
The city is also waiting on a price for the change orders to help accommodate the municipal court.
“This project has gone through four city managers, and there’s been a lot of discussion,” Peralta said. “At the beginning, magistrate court had a plan and then brought us the idea for a building layout. Former city manager Andrew DiCamillo dealt with the lease and had the idea that the municipal court would go into that building. It was when Andrew Salas was manager and Jerah Cordova was mayor that the design of the building was approved. I wasn’t involved.”
Peralta said if the costs are too high, it is a possibility that the Belen Municipal Court might not move into the building at all.
“Because of the cost the city is going to have to incur, it might be too much,” she said. “There has been no discussion how municipal software is going to run, and there is no definite answer about separate phone line.”
Peralta said the city will have to foot the cost of an armed guard at the courthouse, which is part of the lease agreement.
“If anything, the agreement will be amended, and the council would have to vote on it,” the city manager said. “I’m hopeful that it can work. If not, then we will do what we can.
“Since the beginning, the city didn’t want to get stuck paying an enormous bill to get us in the building, especially if we’re not able to fit in there comfortably,” she said. “We never intended to put a lot of money into the building.”
Because of the paving work, Belen City Hall will be closed to in-person business from Monday, Nov. 14, through Monday, Dec. 12. All residents needing to conduct business in-person with the utility department can do so at the Belen Fire Department, 121 S. Fifth St., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The city council meetings for Nov. 21 and Dec. 5 will be held at the Belen Public Library, 333 Becker Ave.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.