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Courthouse an energy sieve in need of significant upgrades

The Stevens County Courthouse is more than 50 years old and in need of asbestos abatement and numerous other repairs and renovations, said the county's Facilities Coordinator.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The courthouse renovations that are part of Stevens County's $15 million building project are needed soon, according to the county's Facilities Coordinator.

Dave Schmidt spoke with the Stevens County Citizens/County Board Facilites Project Advisory Committee Monday to, mostly, review the 52-year-old building's deficiencies.

The facility is full of asbestos that needs removal and the building's energy efficiency is virtually zero. The boiler is on its last legs, and the electrical system can't handle modern day needs, Schmidt said.

"Back when it was built, it was great," Schmidt said. "In today's world, it's not so good."

The courthouse structurally is sound, but no maintenance or deferred maintenance over the years means an entire overhaul is necessary, he said.

"Most things in this building have served their useful lives," Schmidt said.

Schmidt led the committee members on a tour of the facility two weeks ago. At that time, he said there was so much heat loss that, in thermal imaging, the building appears as a large orange ball of flames.

The highest R-value -- which measures heat retention -- in the entire building is about 1.5.

"That's the equivalent, in your home, of having every other window open all winter long," Schmidt said.

Asbestos abatement is the primary concern, and would likely necessitate that courthouse operations be moved to another location. The county can either isolate areas and scrape asbestos, which is in ceiling materials and floor tiles, among other things, or it can vacate the entire building temporarily and essentially gut it, he said.

The second option would be the most cost effective. Even with rent for a temporary facility factored in, Schmidt estimated it would shorten the construction time and save the county about $10,000 per month over isolating areas and renovating piecemeal.

Right now, the county can't do much to renovate the building because of the asbestos, he said.

"You can't change a window without disturbing asbestos, you can't change the boiler without disturbing asbestos," Schmidt said. "We're well beyond doing a little bit here and a little bit there. Asbestos takes us beyond that."

In addition to updating energy efficiencies and electrical systems, the renovation plans call for the installation of a geothermal heating system.

Schmidt said that the electrical, oil and gas costs of the current courthouse is more than $41,000 per year. The plan calls for moving the county's Human Services department back into the renovated courthouse. Currently, it costs almost $8,000 for electrical and gas at Human Services current location. The total cost is more than $49,000.

In the new facility, with geothermal, the electrical useage would almost double, but the costs are estimated at about $45,600 per year, a savings of almost $4,000 per year, according to numbers Schmidt obtained from Bill Klyve, of Otter Tail Power Co.