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Design team tentatively chosen for county jail renovation

Steve Johnson1 / 2
Roz Johnson2 / 2

In the end the decision came down to "just plain folks."

A husband and wife team of designers won the right to oversee the redesign of the county's Law Enforcement Center's second floor to accommodate Hubbard County Social Services offices.

Steve and Roz Johnson said they didn't see a problem completing the project within the $800,000 budget the county laid down.

Their firm, VJA (Vetter Johnson Architects) of Minneapolis, ousted the other two Minneapolis-area firms that had previous dealings with the county and seemed to have the inside track.

But VJA demonstrated a unique and extensive knowledge of Social Services operations, having been involved in numerous county office remodeling projects in the past.

The Johnsons are both graduates of NDSU and have a cabin on Round Lake so they spend time in the area.

The Johnsons work with an electrical and a mechanical engineer.

The other two firms, Klein McCarthy Architects and BKV Group, are much larger and had other engineers and designers in-house.

"Big is not always better," commissioner Cal Johannsen said. "I feel better about it this time then I did before."

Commissioners re-opened the interviews when Klein McCarthy made a clerical error last week and sent the county the wrong contract to sign.

In the process, the board scaled back the scope and cost of the project, initially estimated at $1.2 million.

To renovate the space above the jail should cost at a maximum $800,000, commissioners agreed last week.

Johnsons didn't see a problem with the scaled back request.

"This is a good way to go," architect Steve Johnson said. "Do what you can afford."

He told the board of planning meeting areas for caseworkers so that clients' children aren't running through work areas causing a "stressful environment."

Both Johnsons advocated a mix of offices and open areas.

Steve Johnson said it's important that financial workers have areas where they can discuss confidential client matters.

Roz Johnson, an interior designer, said federal HIPAA health requirements require confidentiality in the storage, handling and discussion of medical records.

"We will reuse existing (furniture) as much as possible to give you the best product for the dollar," she told the board. She suggested refurbished furniture, which looks new, could defray additional costs associated with the move.

The Johnsons' professional fee was 2 percent below their competitors, 7.75 percent versus 9 o 10 percent, and they said they would not bill the county mileage, hotel and meals if they were already planning on coming up to their lake cottage.

All three firms have worked with the same construction management contractor in Little Falls and highly recommended it.

The county plans on advertising for bids for a CM once it has begun to work with the Johnsons in the design phase.

And that is contingent on the county attorney approving the contract between Hubbard County and VJA.

One issue discussed with all three firms is the safe transportation to the courthouse.

The jail brings inmates through a public corridor to their court appearances, so the board wants a system designed to ensure safe passage for employees.

There was talk that a series of lights could signal when the passageway is safe to use. Other discussion centered on adding a second floor to the corridor or an exterior passageway, but no decisions have been made. A new façade will be designed for the public to use, rather than the law enforcement entrance.

All three firms estimated that actual construction could take up to five months. The county wants the project broken up into small bid packages to allow local contractors the chance to get the work.

The hope is that within a year, the cramped Social Services Department will be relocated above the jail, freeing up space in the overcrowded county office building.

Then a second phase would begin to backfill the empty offices.

"We promise to be very good stewards of your design dollars," Steve Johnson told the board.

Sarah Smith

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

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