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County inches forward on filling space above the jail

The second floor of the county's Law Enforcement Center has been vacant for five years. The county will move the Social Services Department there in the coming year, once bids and contractors have been retained. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County commissioners took an incremental step toward a $1 million building project Wednesday but stopped short or authorizing the second phase of the work.

Commissioners asked Scott Fettig, president of a St. Louis Park architectural agency, to come up with a final contract and itemized work detail in moving Hubbard County Social Services above the county jail.

The project is tentatively estimated to cost $1.2 million, of which the architects would get 10 percent.

But the contract has not been approved yet and commissioners openly suggested four other firms named as finalists might do the work for 5 percent.

Fettig is president of Klein McCarthy, which drafted a space use plan for the county three years ago. That plan was gathering dust until commissioner Kathy Grell urged the county move forward to ease crowding issues.

The new plan is for architects to design office space above the jail to accommodate Social Services, then work on renovating the county's office building to fill in the vacant space.

The 11,700 square feet above the jail is just an empty shell now. It was tentatively planned for jail expansion, but was left vacant for possible office use, too.

Fettig suggested if the board wants to proceed with local contractors, a construction manager, rather than a general contractor, would be the way to go.

The project would conceivably be broken downinto numerous smaller bid packages tailored to the local workforce. Fettig suggested a construction manager might be more expedient, overseeing the contractors, estimates, budget and guaranteeing the work and deadlines.

Commissioners worried that might increase the cost, as a construction manager would cost a few more percentage points of the total project.

"I have no intention of financing," said commissioner Lyle Robinson. "It has to come out of the building fund. I would like to spur the economy as best as possible."

"We want to keep this project as local as possible," Grell reiterated.

"I like locals working but we have to do what's best for the taxpayers," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

"It's not a big project and we need to keep it from being a big deal," Robinson said.

"Expediency," board chair Dick Devine requested. "I don't want to rush into this blind but we've been talking about this for years."

"I see it as a single phase" project, Robinson said. "Let the people elected next November deal with Phase 2. We don't want to slow it down adding a bunch of stuff we're not sure of."

Phase 2 would entail shuffling the remaining county offices around to the vacated space once Social Services moves out.

The county's building fund currently sits at just over $1.3 million, which would cover the initial phase but leave Phase 2 short of funds.

The question of moving office personnel above inmates frequently turned to the issue of public safety and security. Fettig said security has always been contemplated in the plan for just that reason.

The Law Enforcement Center will need a new public façade. Currently its front door opens into a tiny entry for the Sheriff's Department and dispatch center. Visitors must communicate through security glass and a phone.

But Fettig did not see any insurmountable issues, since the five-year-old facility has state-of-the-art security. The board even mentioned using inmates to contribute to some of the labor.

But commissioners were still fretting over hiring a construction manager when the meeting ended.

"We have houses bigger than this being built in the county and they don't have construction managers," Robinson said.

Fettig said he would send a contract to the county attorney for review by Monday, then await the commission's decision.

As if to seal the deal, Fettig told the board, "We don't pre-bill anything."

"Good," said County Attorney Don Dearstyne. "Because we don't pre-pay."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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