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Phase 2 of courthouse renovations could be costly

This would be the proposed addition onto the south face of the county office bulding if a more extensive renovating plan is approved. (Architects' drawing)1 / 2
This is one reason why the county must spend more than $1 million on electrical and mechanical upgrades for the building, regardless of which plan it chooses for the renovation. The front door blows open, circulating airflow onto the main floor. This could be a fire hazard, a mechanical engineer warned county officials Wednesday. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

Phase 2 of the Hubbard County courthouse renovation briefly came alive Wednesday afternoon until county commissioners saw the price tag.

Then it went on temporary life support.

Two options for renovating the county's office building after the Social Services Department moves above the jail seemed a bit pricey to county commissioners, ranging from $3.692 million to $4.795 million.

The higher end option places a snazzy new entrance on the south side of the existing building, making room for additional office space inside.

Architect Steve Johnson of VJA, a Twin Cities firm overseeing the first phase, cautioned that the plans were only preliminary and costs could decrease by the time the county is ready to start.

The county envisions a new "land records department" on the second floor that would include auditor-treasurer, assessor, recorder and license bureau. Initially the Environmental Services Office was planned to be a part of this amalgamation.

But there may not be enough room to accommodate all of those functions on one floor, so the new plan has ESO and the County Attorney's office moving to the main floor in a consolidation with the courts.

Third floor would host a new boardroom and offices while the current basement boardroom would be designated for storage.

Regardless of which option the board chooses, more than $1 million of those costs would be spent bringing the current office building up to code and stemming the bleeding the 1975 mechanical and electrical systems are currently experiencing.

Most of the mechanical components have a 15-year life span, said mechanical engineer Michael Alexander, but the pneumatic controls are on their 37th year of service. Even the "kid" in the group, at 5 or 10 years old, has faulty dampers and return fans that aren't operational.

The main entrance door on the east end of the building is always open, letting air conditioned coolness out, hot air in and causing circulation issues that would alarm any firefighter.

"Air flow is no longer temperature and volume regulated, which can lead to sickness," Alexander told the board.

The manufacturer of the electrical system went out of business in the 1980s and replacement parts can only be found online at a premium price.

"The hallway is being used to circulate air," Alexander added. "That's a code violation by current standards. It would propagate fire."

One of the electrical rooms even caught fire when Alexander was inspecting it last summer, he said.

"The panel is supposed to trip out, not start a fire," he said. "The building also needs surge protection."

The county needs to switch its main source of heat from electricity to natural gas, Alexander said.

"Everything is electrically driven," he said of the higher operational expense. "You could save $27,000 just switching to gas."

Energy incentives could defray some of the mechanical costs, not to mention the energy savings once new systems are installed. Upgrading the pneumatic controls to digital ones could potentially save 20 to 30 percent, he estimated, Lighting improvements could save another 15 to 25 percent.

"You're living on borrowed time," he warned. "You're gambling."

The cheaper renovation option would remodel existing spaces with no new construction.

The second option still remodels existing spaces, but adds the new common entrance/lobby on the south side of the building.

"You should approach it as conceptual," said Pete Filippi, the county's construction manager on the first phase, which is said to be ahead of schedule. "The numbers will tighten up. They don't include potential (energy) rebate savings."

The board took the plans under advisement.

Social Services will move into its new space by the end of the year.

Sarah Smith

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

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