Architects drafting long-range plan for county's space
An architect and designer hired to study Hubbard County's space issues noticed one thing right off the bat during their first visit to Park Rapids - an underused law enforcement building.
It holds an underused jail.
"There's a lot of space available," said architect Bruce Schwartzman of Klein McCarthy Architects in St. Louis Park.
The firm specializes in government facilities and court space needs. It has conducted 50 similar studies for about half the state's 87 counties. The county board authorized the expenditure of $16,600 earlier this winter to draft a long-range master plan on how best to utilize the space the county has available. The architects envision a 15-20-year plan.
The goal is two-fold: To provide the most convenient citizen access and to maximize each department's efficiency. Many departments, such as social services, are cramped for space and spread over two floors. It might enhance their efficiency to concentrate their operations on one floor, Schwartzman suggested.
Designer Anthony Enright said in visiting with each department, "They understand the county doesn't have a lot of money for their wish lists."
One item mentioned is that most departments don't have a meeting or conference room.
"I see an $11-$12-million dollar building over there at the LEC not being totally utilized," commissioner Don Carlson said. "Can't we use it for something?"
Scwartzman said there could be some security issues involved in converting the unused jail space to office functions. "That is a secured perimeter," he said of the jail. "You don't want to bring the public into that secured area."
But when commissioners pressed the men about using parts of the building because the county offices are overflowing, the architects admitted the county could build a second entrance and make the lower level or unused second floor available for other county functions.
"From what we've seen so far there are some court space issues," Schwartzman said. "It might be a viable option to put them on the second floor" of the law enforcement building.
The old jail, with thick block walls, probably won't be renovated easily or cheaply, the architects suggest.
"We're cheap and we already spent too much on expansion of the law enforcement center," the commissioners said.
The architects will meet with the county's building committee April 8. The space study and report will take several months to complete.
In other county business the board:
-Learned that moisture abatement renovations to the old courthouse will cost considerably more than earlier thought.
The building houses the Hubbard County Historical Society and the North Country Museum of Arts. The historical structure has been collecting mold due to excessive condensation from runoff that seeps into basement walls.
At the last board meeting Historical Society director Karen Danks said the group had gotten estimates after a State Historical Society architect toured the damage last summer. She said the cost of repairs would be around $3,000.
Maintenance supervisor Lee Gwiazdon said insulation alone would run $4,500, not counting the excavation and grading around the structure.
Commissioners asked Gwiazdon to get some preliminary estimates together and the county will advertise for bids the board gets a better idea of what the repairs will cost.
-Learned the county received $600,000 in federal stimulus money to replace a bridge in the northern part of the county south of Lake Plantagenet. Public Works superintendent Dave Olsonawski, who is usually low-key, was almost euphoric about the county's good fortune.
Hubbard County also received $415,000 in state park and road funds for another project, and will have several construction projects in the works this summer, funded by federal and state dollars.
"We're gonna have a really busy year," he said, smiling.
Olsonawski also told the board road crews have been working 10-hour days unplugging culverts and easing drainage problems to prevent snowmelt from running across roadways.
-Allowed County Attorney Don Dearstyne to hire a summer intern even though the issue deadlocked last month. The county has a hiring freeze on, and board members opposed to the hiring said it would set a poor example to departments struggling without being able to fill vacancies.
The summer law clerk's salary is paid for by a Minnesota Justice Foundation grant. The county's share would only be around $360 for withholding, which would be paid for with drug and DWI forfeiture revenues.
"This is exactly what we want," board chair Lyle Robinson said. "I don't think it violates our hiring freeze." Robinson has suggested other county departments can bring on new hires if department heads can figure out a way to pay them without using tax levy funds.
-Learned that income maintenance (public assistance) caseloads continue to increase. In January there were 1,923 cases. That number rose to 1,950 in February. But intakes for February were down, likely because it's a shorter month with the President's Day holiday. Intakes declined from 226 in January to 192 in February.
"It could have been a lot worse," said Social Services Director Daryl Bessler.
-Learned of a federal firefighting grant to upgrade emergency radio dispatching equipment, first discussed by the board one year ago. The grant comes from the Department of Homeland Security.
A statewide radio communication plan was initiated after the 9/11 attacks, with all state agencies to be in compliance by 2012.
In the first phase, the Park Rapids Fire Department applied for a grant on behalf of the county's five firefighting agencies to purchase the necessary equipment. It received $185,000. The goal is to convert over to 800 MHz or VHF narrowband digital radios that will be compatible for all law enforcement or emergency agencies. Minnesota recently made the decision for many agencies to purchase 800 MHz systems.
Fire Chief Donn Hoffman told the board the grant is a 90/10 matching award; all the recipients have budgeted for their share already. But a portion of the grant covers radios for the county's emergency dispatch system. Because the county is not considered a non-profit entity like the volunteer fire departments, its equipment must come under a 50/50 matching grant. The county's share of the estimated $127,828 expense would be about $70,000.
Chief Deputy Frank Homer said he told the grant committee "if it's coming out of taxpayers' pockets it's not gonna fly."
Homer said he would tap E-911 funds, criminal justice aid funds and see whether funds were available from the regional radio board that was set up to implement the conversion.
The commission passed a resolution supporting the efforts without promising any funds. Commissioners suggested getting Emergency Management Director Dave W. Konshok more involved in the process.
Commissioners also expressed concerns about the second and third phases of the conversion. Phase 2 shouldn't cost taxpayers anything, Hoffman said.
"My concern is what's in Phase 3," commissioner Cal Johannsen said. "Those radio towers, that's the big one" for expenses.
The entire conversion is expected to cost $1 million, but costs could decline over time, Hoffman and Homer said.