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This is an architect's rendering of how the courthouse renovation would look, moving the entrance south. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

County approves $5.6 million renovation

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The Hubbard County Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to proceed on a $5.665 million courthouse renovation.

The board reasoned at a public hearing that bond rates were too low to pass up and competition in the construction industry would ensure lower prices for the renovation and addition.

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There is a 30-day comment period. Construction on the 38-year-old building could start as soon as late summer.

Only two members of the public showed up for the hearing. The remainder of the audience was county employees.

But it was a vocal group nonetheless.

"People want to know how much their taxes will go up," Duane Splitstoesser said more than once.

He didn't get a definitive answer.

The county will take $2 million out of reserves and sell bonds for the balance, $3.665 million.

If the county finances those bonds over 20 years, the annual payments would be between $236,000 and $241,000 annually. On a 15-year schedule the payments would run between $292,000 to $295,000 annually. Both figures are based on an interest rate somewhere around 2 percent.

Those payments would be offset by an estimated addition of $100,000 in Social Services annual rental for its new space above the jail; an estimated savings in refinanced jail bond rates of $63,000 annually that would start in 2014 and energy savings of $40,000.

The 38-year-old building would be heated and cooled by a natural gas-powered boiler.

"I don't think it's going to be a significant change," board chair Cal Johannsen said. But he added no one knows for sure what the impact to taxpayers will be.

"There's so many variables," he said.

But Auditor Pam Heeren disagreed.

"To tell people this isn't going to affect their taxes is irresponsible," she corrected. "There's so many other aspects of it."

But she acknowledged that past financial obligations weren't "earth-shattering for most people."

The closing costs for the bonding will be $100,000.

The plan entails a 700 square foot cathedral addition, an open lobby on the south side of the existing building, which will be the main entrance.

It will allow for better courthouse and office security, which is one of the major motivators for the renovation work.

The geriatric heating and cooling system in the current building is another. Currently the east door at the main entrance of the building sits open when air currents blow on it.

The new first floor will house the county attorney, environmental services office and include conference rooms for attorneys and clients. They now use the rest rooms or entryways.

The second floor will house the new Land Records department, the auditor, treasurer, licensing bureau, records and assessor's offices.

The third floor will house a new boardroom and the coordinator's offices.

The Minneapolis design firm, Vetter Johnson Architects, is heading up the second phase of the project. County officials were pleased that the Social Services makeover came in several thousand dollars under budget, although bills are still coming in.

And the county board members expressed satisfaction with construction manager Pete Filippi of Contegrity Group in Little Falls. Filippi was retained at the suggestion of architect Steven Johnson, who urged against using a general contractor.

County board members praised the smooth construction process with Filippi at the helm, and the smaller bid packages that allowed local contractors to participate in the project. They said they would like to do Phase 2 the same way.

Heeren and Maria Shepherd, an administrative assistant with the ESO, both questioned if the building costs included frequent office moves to accommodate the construction.

"Where are the costs for doing it?" Heeren asked.

Johnson said a 10 percent contingency fee should cover it. Shepherd was dubious.

Moving the network drivers, the furniture and personnel might be more involved than anticipated, she said.

"What's it gonna cost for the IT people to move 35 computers three times?" Shepherd asked.

Johnson was confident the contingency fees could cover the costs of reorganizing offices and moving people around the building schedule.

In other business, the board:

n Set the town road allotment to reflect a one-third split based on the current road-bridge levy; township miles as certified by the county engineer and the most current population estimates.

n Appointed Mark Thomason and Ron Whitton to the county Planning Commission.

n Set a work session for Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. to discuss solid waste issues.

The remainder of the board action can be viewed on the county website, The Enterprise is no longer able to attend most board meetings because they are now held Tuesdays, when the Wednesday edition is assembled for print.

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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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