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Architects will draw up floor plans for court space proposal

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Hubbard County will spend up to $7,000 to have architects and structural, electrical and mechanical engineers draw up floor plans for a prospective move of the District Courts, even though two of the five county board members strenuously disapproved.

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The county has already spent $16,800 to retain architects that conducted extensive interviews with county departments that would ultimately tell them how best to allocate the county's current and future space needs. The burgeoning Social Services department is outgrowing its third floor space in the county office building and needs room to expand.

Some offices in that department have already moved down to the second floor.

But it was the district courts that got the ball rolling two years ago when personnel maintained their space was inadequate and left them exposed to security problems.

It was a new request by the district judges that prompted the latest expenditure. Court personnel said they need to see on paper where they would fit on the second floor of the Law Enforcement Center before they commit to the overall plan. But that would entail preparing architectural drawings that include structural, electrical and mechanical input.

"It seems to me their concerns are that we don't want to duplicate what we already have," said board chair Lyle Robinson.

The architects that presented the proposed space plans did not undertake actual floor plan drawings. They simply outlined where departments might move in the overall scheme.

Court personnel want two courtrooms, actually three for emergency purposes.

"We have a necessity to have two full functioning courtrooms at the same time," court administrator Darlene Gerbracht told the board last week. She asked if the current courtroom could be used as a backup.

"You might be able to use it as a hearing room," said commissioner Cal Johannsen.

Gerbracht said the courts need drawings to see if the space above the jail will accommodate court chambers, administration, conference rooms, the courtrooms and the law library.

"To me we're spending a lot of money on something we don't even know will work," said commissioner Dick Devine, one of the vocal opponents. "I'm really uncomfortable with the whole thing. We're trying to fit something in there it was not designed to do."

Devine said the $2 million plan is politically unpopular with his constituents during a weakened economy.

"We're just throwing good money after bad," he said of the floor plan expenditures.

"I don't see why we're pushing so far into this project when we don't have the money to spend," said commissioner Don Carlson, the second opponent.

One way to recoup the potential costs is to charge Social Services additional rent for the space it occupies.

The state, because the department administers state-funded programs, actually reimburses the county for the space its programs and personnel occupy.

But in calculating those costs, county board members voted to increase annual rents by $3,135. Currently the state pays the county $43,123 to occupy the county space, board members said. Occupying additional space on the second floor has never been accounted for in the rent agreement.

"They should be paying $80,000 to $90,000," Robinson maintained. "That solves half the problem" of the cost to occupy the LEC.

"We're not raising it," he said of the rent. "The state's economy and requirements are pushing Daryl (Bessler, Social Services Director) into using more space. It's a bargain on their part and they should pay their share.

"It's a $23 million operation," Robinson said of the Social Services Department. The state "could pay $80,000 in rent. We're fools for picking it up out of property taxes."

And the county does not want its Social Services Department to take its rent and move elsewhere.

"It makes no sense to have empty space and then rent space somewhere else," Robinson rationalized.

"If we're going to move someone, let's move Social Services over to the jail," Devine suggested.

Robinson, although voting to expend the additional monies for the floor plans, questioned the expense and suggested only spending $5,000.

"They put so many hours into the first one (plan) this seems a little expensive to me," he said. "We're just narrowing one little portion."

Board members have cited dwindling court workloads, fewer jury trials and court cutbacks in their hesitation to spend the funds to give court personnel new workspace. But the plan calls for vacating court offices now to make room for Social Services to occupy that area of the county building.

Johannsen pushed the board to go forward.

"We can't sit on our hands even with the economy," he said. "I can't see going to the taxpayers to build new when we have empty space."

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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