(West Central Tribune (Willmar, MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 11--GRANITE FALLS -- On a 3-1 vote, the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners adopted a plan calling for replacing an aged courthouse and bonding for up to $5,955,000 for the project.
The decision on Wednesday evening in Granite Falls came after the commissioners emphasized that they believed the actual project costs will be lower, and that $5.9 million was a "not to exceed'' number.
The bonding would raise taxes by 1.8 percent, or $6.16 a year on a $125,000 residential homestead property, according to information presented at the meeting.
The commissioners told a small crowd attending the hearing that after two years of investigation, they see no practical alternative other than to replace the courthouse, which includes an original 1889 structure and an addition from the 1970s. The newer law enforcement and family services addition will remain in use.
The costs for essential upgrades needed in the older portions of the facility top $2 million, and costs to meet security and other needs for the court system, public access and office efficiency would easily raise costs to well over $4 million.
The commissioners said the intent of the plan is to raze the 1889 and 1970s courthouse facility, but that they would be open to turning it over to another entity interested in repurposing the building. They would only do so if a prospective owner could produce a "robust'' economic plan, and soon. They do not want to face the prospect of tearing down the structure after they have built a new facility to accommodate its presence.
Commissioners Ron Antony, John Berends and Greg Renneke voted for the plan, while Gary Johnson cast the no vote. Johnson said he would support efforts to build a new facility, but said he feels a project of this size should be put to a referendum. Commissioner Louis Sherlin was not able to attend the meeting.
The capital improvement plan adopted by the commissioners is needed if the county is to move forward with arranging financing for the project and meeting a timeline for construction to start next spring. The action on Wednesday also opens a 30-day period in which anyone seeking a referendum on the project could petition to have it on the ballot in November. A petition would require the signatures of 5 percent of the 5,458 county voters who cast ballots in the last election, or a minimum of 274 voters.
The current plan, which could be modified, calls for building a 21,000-square-foot facility. It would hold the district court system, and tentative plans also call for placing the sheriff's office, county attorney's office, probation department, Granite Falls police department, and county IT department in the new building.
The offices for public health, veterans service, and restorative justice would then be located in the portion of the law enforcement building now holding the sheriff and police department.
Existing administration, finance, and land and property and record departments would remain in the county office building downtown.
An architect has not yet been selected. Cost estimates were provided by Contegrity Group Inc., Little Falls, which is serving as construction manager for the project.
Citizens speaking at the meeting came from two camps. Some, such as George Rysdahl, of Clarkfield, urged the commissioners to pursue lower-cost options. He suggested erecting a single-floor, stick-built building modeled after an office building in Cottonwood.
Others, including Terri Dinesen and Scott Tedrick of Granite Falls, spoke for residents who are interested in seeing the original courthouse building preserved. They asked the commissioners to consider upgrading it to meet current needs or to keep open the option of another entity owning and repurposing it.
Yellow Medicine County Historical Society Director Brian Schulz said he checked with the state about the possibility of obtaining funding help to preserve the building. He was told its historical attributes have been lost due to the removal of the original turrets and the extensive remodeling that has occurred. "They won't give us a dime for it,'' he said.
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