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Advisory panel reviews building options

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County's building advisory committee reviewed two alternatives to the $15 million plan the county commissioners approved last summer and came under fire from opponents last fall.

Instructed to develop two options, neither of which includes immediate construction of a controversial jail component, the project's architect and manager presented their preliminary plans to the Stevens County Citizens/County Board Facilities Project Advisory Committee on Monday.

Total construction costs for the two options range from $11.5 million to about $10.7 million.

The county commissioners, who all sit on the advisory panel, at their meeting on Tuesday agreed to delay any discussion or action on the options until after the final advisory committee meeting on May 11.

The commissioners recessed their Tuesday meeting and will reconvene at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 12.

Architect Mark Schneider, of Klein McCarthy Architects, and project manager Larry Filippi, of Contegrity, were instructed by the county board to develop two options, one which included a courthouse renovation and construction of a new law enforcement center but no jail, and another option that included the courthouse renovation but left out construction of the LEC and jail. Both options include construction of a secure sally port at which prisoners are transferred from vehicles to the courthouse, and the construction of five holding rooms where prisoners are held before or after court appearances and transport to a county with a jail.

The board's instructions included planning the options so that a jail could be added in the future.

Schneider and Filippi stressed that their calculations were rough and that it would take three to four months to develop more detailed designs and cost figures if the board opts to change the current project. Plans for the $15 million project are completed, but the board voted earlier this spring to delay bond sales and bid advertisements until after the advisory panel completed its 90-day review.

Several advisory panel members questioned why taking the jail out of the project wouldn't result in more cost savings. Taking the jail out of one option would result in a savings of about $3.45 million, and savings for the other option came to about $4.3 million. Members said that didn't jibe with the county's plan to sell jail bonds for about $9.85 million.

The current $15 million project calls for construction and renovation of about 61,000 square feet. The option for renovation and LEC construction was about 10,000 square feet smaller, and the other option with just the courthouse renovation is about 20,000 square feet smaller than the $15 million plan.

But many costs remain the same regardless what project is constructed, and the project design is integrated so that costs savings aren't as great, Filippi said.

Also, construction of the five holding rooms essentially represents building about a quarter of a jail -- the current plan calls for a 20-cell jail -- and the rooms, the dispatch center and other areas near the courtrooms must be built to maximum security specifications to meet Minnesota Department of Corrections requirements in the event a jail is built later. The jail is planned for 19,000 square feet and the holding rooms are about 5,400 square feet, he said.

Advisory committee member Neal Hofland referred to plans from January 2008 which called for renovating much less space in the courthouse than any of the plans now call for.

The current courthouse is about 27,500 square feet. Under the option with no jail or LEC, the square footage increases to about 41,000, including the holding area, offices and additional renovation for mechanical and electrical rooms. The option that includes construction of the LEC increases the square footage to about 51,000 square feet.

Schneider said that 2008 estimate came before more detailed information about county space needs was gathered. Under the current plan, the county would move Human Services back to the courthouse, move Public Health to the current Human Services building on Highway 28, and sell the Public Health building.

Under the option to not build a jail or LEC, both Human Services and Public Health would remain in their current locations, and space needs at both locations would require 1,500 square foot additions, with adds about $450,000 to the cost of the optional plan.

Schneider said the additional courthouse renovation plans are "nothing extravagant," and that after meeting with department heads, it was clear the courthouse staff was "busting at the seams" in its current space, he said.