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County approves bond sale for building project

An artist's rendering of the front of the Stevens County Courthouse once a $15 million building and renovation project is completed.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved beginning final design documents and selling bonds for a $15 million building project.

As has happened in previous votes on the project, commissioners Don Munsterman, Larry Sayre and Paul Watzke voted to approve the plans and bond sale, and commissioners Herb Kloos and Ron Staples voted against the motions.

The board met with architect Mark Schneider, of Klein McCarthy Architects, and project manager Larry Filippi, of Contegrity Group, during its regular meeting Tuesday at the county courthouse.

The project, approved last summer, includes a 40-bed jail, a law enforcement center, and renovations of the existing courthouse building.

While the design development plans are finalized, the board will move ahead with the sale of $9,845,000 in General Obligation Jail Bonds. The commissioners will consider the proposals and could award the sale at its Feb. 17 meeting.

Filippi said the schedule going forward includes calling for bids in mid-March, awarding the bids in mid-April, and breaking ground on construction when weather permits in May. He estimated it would take 16 months to build the jail and LEC, and courthouse renovations would begin once those spaces are completed.

An estimate of project costs given the commissioners on Tuesday indicated the costs at $14,982,192. That figure is about the same as a schematic design estimate the board received in October 2008, even with the inclusion of a geo-thermal heating system costing about $440,000. That cost, and a related cost for additional engineering work, were absorbed into the current estimate thanks to a decrease in the contingency money built into the estimate.

"I feel real confident where we are numbers-wise," Filippi said. "I think we'll have a very successful build."

Filippi also noted that he believes the economic climate is ripe for the project.

Mille Lacs County is building a courts facility onto its existing jail and courthouse. The project, estimated at $6.3 million, saw bids total $5.3 million.

Filippi said Contegrity, which managed the Mille Lacs County project, received 22 bid packages -- a total of 134 bids.

"There are some hungry contractors out there," he said.

Schneider said Klein McCarthy already has received calls from contractors who are eager to get involved in the process for Stevens County's project.

"They're already lining up and waiting for the plans," Schneider said.

John Stephens and Charlie Berg, two members of a group opposed to the jail portion of the project, asked questions related to it.

Stephens asked if delaying the bids to possibly get an even better final bid might be prudent, given the number of contractors seeking work during a time when projects are at a premium.

Filippi said that, typically, projects garner bids before the summer construction season. Given the current economic climate nationwide, he said he couldn't speculate if bids later would be any better, but that a contractor then would incure expenses related to enclosing the project and heating the site for fall and winter construction.

County Coordinator Jim Thoreen gave a brief history of the commissioners' attempts to coordinate regional and two-county justice center projects over the last five years, and why those efforts fell apart. Given the difficulty putting those projects together, Stevens County embarked on its own jail and LEC project, and included it with planned and long-needed courthouse renovations.

Thoreen said that keeping the 2009 jail bond issue below $10 million makes the issuance bank certified and comes with a better interest rate. The county will use $4 million in reserves, and could issue additional bonds in 2010 to finish paying for the project.

For more on this story and other county business from Tuesday's meeting, see the Saturday, Jan. 24 Sun Tribune and the newspaper's Web site at